Sermon for Pentecost 10B

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15Psalm 78:23-29Ephesians 4:1-16John 6:24-35

Greetings to you my sisters and brothers,

To start us off this week, I like to challenge you with a short quiz!

See how many of these five questions you can get right (answers follow the sermon below).

  1. As of 2021, which British baking firm is the most popular bread brand in the United Kingdom?
  2. What invention by John Montagu was a good thing for bakers?
  3. According to old wives tales, what does eating bread crust do to a person’s hair?
  4. What brand of bread was advertised on TV with Brian Glover declaring it’s Bread wi’ Nowt Taken Out?
  5. Which biblical town has a name which means House of Bread in Hebrew?

I hope this little quiz about bread has helped you to remember our gospel reading from last week – where we heard that Jesus fed 5000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. What we have heard in today’s reading happens just the day after that great miracle and the crowds have come looking for Jesus and his disciples once again – but are they here because of that miracle or are they here to see if there’s more free food on the go? Jesus is not so sure!

We live as hungry people in a hungry world.

Like the crowds following Jesus we are looking for something that will sustain and nourish our lives, something that will feed and energise, something that will fill and satisfy. Everyone is looking for bread.

But the problem is not that we are hungry, but the kind of bread we eat to satisfy our hunger.

Just for a moment I’d like us to think about bread as a metaphor for the things that we are hungry for – the metaphorical varieties of bread being eaten in our lives and in the world today.

In Afghanistan, Yemen and Mexico soldiers and militants are eating the bread of violence and war.

Many politicians across the globe share the bread of negativity, hostility, and name-calling.

A little closer to home, many of us eat the bread of having to be right and getting our own way. We eat the bread of hurt feelings and resentment. Sometimes we eat the bread of loneliness, fear and isolation. There are times when we eat the bread of sorrow or guilt. There are other times when we eat the bread of power and control. Sometimes we eat the bread of revenge or one-upmanship. We eat all kinds of bread. And the bread we eat reveals something about the nature of our appetites.

The world is full of bread and yet far too many live in hunger – empty and searching. That says something about our appetites and the bread we have eaten. It’s a sure sign that what we have eaten cannot deliver real life. It is perishable bread that nourishes only a perishable life. It leaves us wanting only more of the same.

Not all of this bread sustains and grows life. Not all bread is nutritious. If we want to know the nutritional value, we have to look beyond the bread – asking where did it come from? What are its ingredients?

That’s what Jesus is teaching in today’s gospel. The people have arrived and they are hungry. Just yesterday Jesus fed 5000 of them with five loaves and two fish. Today they show up and their first question is, “Rabbi, when did you come here?

They do not marvel at yesterday’s miracle, give thanks for God’s generosity or even wonder who this rabbi is. It sounds more as if they are worried that they might have missed the next meal – that Jesus started without them and they are too late. They saw no sign, no miracle in yesterday’s feeding. They saw nothing more than fish and bread. They either refused or were unable to see beyond the fish and bread. They are interested only in their own appetites and Jesus knows it.

Very truly, I tell you,” he says “you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves,”. The people are concerned for their bellies. Jesus is concerned for their lives. The people want to feed themselves with bread. Jesus wants to feed them with God. “Do not work for the food that perishes,” he tells them, “but for the food that endures for eternal life.

And the food that he is talking about, the food that endures is Jesus himself. He is the bread that is broken and distributed for the life of the world. He is the bread that is broken and yet never divided. He is the bread that is eaten and yet never exhausted. He is the bread that consecrates those who believe in him and consume him into their very selves.

When we believe in Jesus, eating, ingesting, and taking him into our lives, we are encouraged to live differently. We are to see ourselves and one another as persons created in the image and likeness of God rather than as obstacles or issues to be overcome. We must trust the silence of prayer rather than the words of argument.

I am the bread of life,” Jesus tells the people. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” He is offering the people himself. He is the imperishable bread that nourishes and sustains imperishable life.

Jesus makes the same offer to each one of us. He offers himself to us in every one of our relationships: family, friends, strangers, enemies, those who agree with us and those who disagree. In every situation and in each day of our lives we choose the bread we will eat, perishable or imperishable and in so doing we also choose the life we want.

So, in this coming week and beyond challenge yourself to consciously choose love and forgiveness over anger and retribution. Relate to others with intimacy and vulnerability rather than superficiality and defensiveness.

Listen for God’s voice rather than your own.

“I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Amen

May God Bless you and those you hold dear in in this coming week.

Fr Simon

ANSWERS TO QUIZ

  1. Warburtons
  2. The sandwich (John Montagu was the 4th Earl of Sandwich)
  3. Makes it curlier
  4. Allinson’s
  5. Bethlehem

Sermon for Pentecost 9B – 25th July 2021

2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-18; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

Today’s Gospel must be one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. We’ve heard it many times before, partly because it’s found in all four of the Gospels and we hear it every year but also because we got to draw it in school or Sunday school and when all’s said and done it’s a cracking story. It’s of course only John who mentions where the five barley loaves and two small fishes come from. A boy organised enough to have his lunch with him when he goes out! I always think that just outsidethe story there must be a mother around, who insisted that he take his lunch with him and packed it up for him before he set off. When the disciples went looking for food he didn’t say “well you can have a half of one of these loaves and the tail end of a fish”, he handed over the lot. What we are probably less familiar with is this story from 2 Kings:

A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have some left.'” He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the LORD.

2 Kings 4:42-44

An earlier example of God’s astounding generosity.

Jesus’s message in all the Gospels is of God’s super-abundance and power to save, but the way that John tells the story of the feeding of the 5,000 combines elements of the Exodus story, when God satisfies Moses’s fractious people with manna in the wilderness, and this feeding miracle of Elisha. Why would he do that? To show that the crowd recognise Jesus’ actions to be those of a really great prophet.

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world’”.

John 6:14

So why is it important for John’s community and indeed for us to see these Old Testament allusions in the story of Jesus?

The story of Jesus and of our Christian faith didn’t start with Jesus’s birth in Nazareth a couple of millennia ago. Understanding Jesus as being a prophet like Moses or Elijah shows that Jesus’s message of salvation is in continuity with Israel’s past. John paints a portrait of Jesus stepping into these important roles for the people of his day and opens our eyes and ears to Jesus’ teaching as being prophetic in our time and situation as well. God is still the same God who spoke to Israel through the voices of the prophets, only now God speaks to John’s community and to us through Jesus the Christ.

Just as God provided abundantly for Israel in times of dire necessity through Moses and Elisha, so Jesus brings a similar kind of life to us in the midst of our human need. Just as God brought Israel out of slavery into freedom, so Jesus’ message has the power to set us free from whatever enslaves us.  Just as Elisha stood against the authority of king Ahab who was unfaithful to God, so Jesus speaks and acts with power among those who do not accept His teaching. In short we in our time, can be the recipients of these very same gifts through our relationship with Jesus and His life-giving power.

Jesus multiplies loaves of bread and fish to satisfy the hunger of the people and it’s seen as a sign. In John’s Gospel, a sign is used to signify who Jesus is. In this miraculous feeding, the people see the sign and it tells them that Jesus is “the prophet who is to come into the world”.

Encountering Jesus. Expecting something. Receiving food to fill their stomachs. But they want more. They want to make him king. Their response is on a purely worldly level. Jesus can clearly cure illnesses and fill their bellies, he’s obviously a good thing and with powers like this, there’s no end to what He could do, including kicking out the hated Roman occupiers. But if you cast yourmind back to the Gospel reading, did it not seem that there were two stories with little to connect them.

The need in the feeding story was a hungry crowd in a remote location with no food – very much bodily need. Jesus responds with a miracle that satisfies the bodily hunger and then because generating an endless supply of free food wasn’t the primary purpose of His ministry, “he withdrew again to the mountain by himself”. Withdrew and mountain is code for spending time with His Father in prayer – something Jesus did frequently and particularly before or after miracles.

So now we find the disciples alone three miles out on the lake in a boat. A strong wind has suddenly blown up, as it frequently does on the Sea of Galilee, and the water’s getting very rough. Out of the darkness, they suddenly see Jesus walking on the water “and they are terrified”. Then Jesus does or rather says something very simple: “It is I; do not be afraid”.

Imagine you are walking along a dark road and you suddenly sense that someone is behind you unseen in the dark. Your feeling may be somewhere between anxious and scared to death would suggest. A simple “It is I” from a voice you recognise suffices to calm the fear over who it might be. And so it is with the disciples on that dark and stormy night.

This story has similarity with the feeding story in that there’s a very real need and Jesus responds to that need. In this case a miracle happens simply through the voice of Jesus calling out to them, “I’m here. Don’t be afraid.”

When juxtaposed as they are in today’s Gospel, these two stories help us to reflect on our own needs, expectations, encounters, and interpretations and our relationship with God.

Sometimes the miracle that happens in our lives is dramatic, walking away unscathed from an horrific accident, coming through a terrible illness against all the odds. But how often is it, though, that all someone needs is a simple reassurance that, indeed, Jesus the Christ is present? That presence can get the boat to shore and can calm the greatest of fears.

Today’s message is very much that Jesus responds to the need of the crowd and need of the disciples. Jesus is active in our lives through both spectacular miracle and simple presence. If we trust in Him He’ll respond to our needs, though not always in the ways that we might expect or imagine He might.

Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians is that “Christ will make his home in their hearts” and that “they may have their roots and foundations in love”. It’s when we allow Christ to truly “dwell in our hearts” as congregations, families and individuals that we become living sacraments, handing Him all that we have so that he can do amazing things; as He

who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.” 

Ephesians 3:20

Amen

Sermon for Pentecost 8B – 18th July 2021

Jeremiah 23:1-6Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Our gospel reading this morning is certainly an interesting one.

And by interesting, I mean that if you happen to have blinked or yawned during the reading, you might have just missed it!

For those that listened intently, you were probably waiting for something to happen that never did. That was certainly my first reaction, when I was beginning to prepare the sermon for this morning.

Our reading today is made up of two smaller texts put together. They are actually the verses immediately preceding and immediately following two miracle stories, the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on the water. And interestingly, these two miracle stories are the gospel reading for next week.

On most occasions, the texts for today are seen as an introduction and an afterthought. But this morning our lectionary calls them into focus, and for good reason, as they reveal to us in an intimate way a Jesus who is compassionate and overflowing with power.

What we must remember about Mark, here, is that in his recounts about the life of Jesus, he has little time for introductions or afterthoughts. Mark’s is the shortest gospel, having no time at all for a birth narrative or genealogy. Mark sets records in scripture with his use of the words “and”, “then” and “immediately”.

Knowing this about the way Mark writes means, simply, that if it’s here, it’s important. And the best way I know how to illustrate the way in which this text is essential to us is by comparing it to one of my favourite series of films of all time – Star Wars.

As the children at both my schools will tell you, I am a  Star Wars nut. From the storm trooper’s head sitting on my office window, to the R2 D2 mug I drink my tea from, I just love it. As a child I had all the action figures and spaceships I could hope for and used to play with my friends, re-enacting the battle scenes between the rebel and alliance and the Empire! I even got all our pupils and teachers dressing up as Star Wars characters on International Star Wars day – May the 4th (be with you)?

May be an image of 1 person and smiling
Jedi Simon – Leading figure in the Rebel Alliance (in his dreams)!

Films have a unique way of telling stories, showing us,  while at the same time telling us what they want to communicate.

In the best films, there are big, flashy scenes. Star Wars features terrific space battles, the famous light sabre fight scenes and explosions on a colossal scale! But this is not the whole of the film. In between the action set-pieces, there are scenes of characters interacting with one another, experiencing things, philosophising, growing and changing.

It is these scenes that contain the real heart of the films. We learn about the characters, what makes them tick, what they care about, what’s important to them.

Without these establishing scenes that zoom in on the characters and show us their heartbeat, the big flashy scenes would feel empty, and we as viewers wouldn’t be invested in the characters enough to feel a sense of risk.

This is what the two extracts we have heard from Mark’s gospel are trying to do today.

They aren’t the flashy, memorable miracle stories.

They are the zoom-ins on the character of Jesus that we are given, so that we might read and better understand the miracle stories through them.

So we zoom in on the disciples and Jesus who are weary, worn-out and tired. Jesus invites them to rest, – an important, biblical invitation to God’s people.

It hearkens back to the Old Testament teaching of Sabbath. Sabbath is the institution that insists we are made for more than working, that we are not slaves, but human beings. Sabbath is a reminder to relax, retreat and refuel.

And the disciples have certainly earned a break! Remember, they have just returned from their “sending out”. In fact, this word used to describe them, “apostles”, means “the ones sent out”, and this is the first time they are given this title.

They have been so busy, that the text describes them as having “no chance even to eat”. In our fast-food, drive-thru, delivery, and microwave-oven world, doesn’t that sound familiar? We spend extra money to help us spend less time to do the things we enjoy.

Jesus calls his disciples to rest from their weariness, a reminder we still sometimes need today.

Unfortunately for the disciples, this rest will have to wait, because of course, the crowds anticipate their movement and get there before they do!

You can imagine their frustration in this moment, like getting a phone call from work while you’re on holiday.

But we’re not told the story from the disciples’ perspective anymore. The camera zooms in a little closer, just on Jesus. Imagine for a moment that the noise of the crowd dies down, and all you see is Jesus’ face, in slow motion, as he gazes out at the crowd. What face do you expect to see? A tired face? An angry face? Perhaps a little mix of both? Maybe we imagine Jesus sighing, knowing there’s still work to be done, but begrudgingly.

But the face of Jesus we are given is none of those.

It is the face of compassion.

We are told that Jesus had compassion. This word compassion is not a word synonymous with pity, as it is used sometimes in modern English.

This is not the compassion that makes an obligatory donation to “Compassion International” or some other such charity. The word for compassion in this text means that Jesus felt it, literally translated, in his bowels. This is the kind of compassion that suffers alongside. And in a way, the tired and worn down Jesus chooses to suffer alongside those who are tired and worn down by oppression, sin and illness.

Jesus sacrifices his own need for rest, for the sake of others finding rest.

The passage forces us to simultaneously believe in a God who calls us to rest, yet willingly gives up his own rest for others’. The only response to such a calling is “thanks be to God”.

And this verse concludes by saying that Jesus had compassion, because they “were like sheep without a shepherd”. This is not the first time this phrase is used in the Bible, and therefore calls our attention to its roots. The phrase occurs first in the book of Numbers, as God instructs Moses to appoint Joshua as a leader for the community as they enter the promised land. This invokes for us, then, the idea of the founding of a new kind of community, and the inauguration of a new leader, a transfer of power for a developing kingdom.

In our story, the new kingdom is a collection of people that would pursue God hastily, going ahead that they might meet God there, and the new leader of this community is Jesus, full of compassion, even when he is empty of everything else.

Now, we fast-forward through two big Jesus miracles, the “action scenes”, and cut to “the healings at Gennasaret”.

Just as before, the crowds subvert any attempts to give Jesus or the disciples rest. The text is general about the healings, which probably suggests that there were very many of them. Jesus’ healing ministry has incredible impact here. You can imagine the film version of this would be in “montage” format, with some soft music playing in the background, as the sick are brought on mats and find life again. The look of wonder on the face of the sick and their loved ones, that same look of compassion on Jesus’ face. We might see a flashback to the young man who is lowered through a roof on a mat by his friends. Then we see more sick people reaching out to touch the end of Jesus’ garment. Some might mock them for their superstition, but this text passes no judgment.

Instead, their unorthodox faith is rewarded. Anyone who touched it was healed. Another flashback to the woman who is healed of her bleeding. Perhaps one more flashback to Jesus’ inability to heal in Nazareth, as we once again see a direct correlation between people’s faith in Jesus to heal and his ability to actually do so. In Nazareth, there is doubt and hostility, and Jesus can do nothing. In Gennasaret, there is superstition and wild hope, and Jesus is so overflowing with power and compassion that even the furthest edges of his clothing can heal the sick.

And it is not just physical healing that takes place here. The word that is used to describe the result of touching Jesus’ garments is, actually, the Greek word meaning to save! Those who touched Jesus’ garments were not simply healed. They were saved! Salvation is physical, it is emotional, it is tangible, and it is holistic. Salvation is raw, and salvation is here!

We are indebted to those who assembled our lectionary texts for highlighting such obscure passages for us this morning, passages we might normally skip past looking for “the good stuff”. The very act of reading these verses as holy scripture is a practice-run of slow, meditative faith. A journey of faith is not simply lived or experienced as one monumental highlight to the next, but more often in the quiet in-between, the every-day.

Even in the everyday, the repetitive, the monotonous, Jesus is still Jesus; unrelenting compassion, teeming with salvation, anticipating our faithful and risky response. And we pray for inspiration to take risks for the one who died for each and every one of us.

Almost in the words of Princess Leia – ‘Help us, Lord Jesus, you’re our only hope‘!

May God Bless you and those you hold dear during this coming week.

Fr Simon