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Mark 7; 1-8.

Most people have a preference for a particular way in which to worship, and that’s fine.
But problems arise when we begin to worship the tradition to which we belong, rather than the God to whom the tradition should point. Some Christians aren’t really happy unless they’re immersed in clouds of incense, bowls of holy water and a Latin Mass.
And on the other hand some are unhappy unless they’re continually singing choruses, swaying with their arms in the air, speaking in tongues, being slain in the Spirit, and asking you if you’ve been “saved.”

Well, my preference is for traditional Catholic simplicity, but that doesn’t mean I’m unhappy sharing worship with my more flamboyant Catholic brethren. And although I think many Protestant liturgical traditions are very dull and have denied themselves access to much joy and grace, I respect the integrity behind their traditions.

However, I do have a problem with any tradition which defines itself by excluding others. I do have a problem with Christians who tell you that they have all of the answers. With Christians who aren’t prepared to tolerate any way of worship which is different from their own. With Christians who show by their intolerance and opposition that, actually, they don’t really understand what it means to love one another. With Christians whose behaviour shows that they’ve stepped outside of the Gospel.

And I think this is what Jesus was saying in the reading which we heard just now. Jesus wasn’t opposed to the Temple traditions of his time. He was opposed to the hypocrisy which was a part and parcel of the lives of many of the outwardly religious people with whom he had to do.
He was critical of people who followed the Temple traditions, the ceremonial regulations and the food laws, to the letter , and who then treated their neighbor as though they were something which they’d just stepped in.

You see, it doesn’t matter how tightly we’re attached to a particular tradition. It doesn’t matter how clean our ritual worship of God is, within whichever tradition to which we belong. It will be made dirty when we are made unclean by the way in which we live our lives.

Jesus had some very severe criticism for some of the religious leaders of his day and we’ve heard a bit of it just now. I think the Pharisees probably got a worse press than they deserved, because some of them undoubtedly cared for their people. But I guess many of them went through a kind of charade, with an outward show of religiosity which covered up a selfish and proud inner nature .

I expect most of us know people like this; but, you know perhaps it’s more important for us to look at our own behavior before we get judgmental. We need to ask ourselves questions like:

What is there in our religion that is pharisaic?

Are we seriously trying to get nearer to Christ, or are we like those Pharisees who made strenuous efforts to win people to their own religious views without bringing them any nearer to God?

Do our efforts to win people really help them to open their lives to God or just draw them into our own habits and prejudices?
Do we have a formal outward appearance of piety which hides flaws in our lives?

The passage which we heard just now tells us that theft, murder, adultery, greed, sexual immorality, jealousy, envy and deceit, will make our clean rituals dirty. And these are the things which we should attend to before we fill up the thurible or refuse to share worship with someone, because we differ on a fine theological point.

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God who is Father of all. And yet I know Baptists who don’t have much to do with Roman Catholics; I know Roman Catholics who don’t have much to do with Anglicans and I know many Anglicans who don’t have much to do with anybody, including each other!

Do you really think that people who don’t belong to any church tradition can look at us and say “see how those Christians love each other”?
Isn’t it time we stopped our silliness and took God seriously.

The God who said, through Jesus “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. The God who loves us all so much that he gave us his only begotten Son, so that in him we might live for ever?

Amen.

John 6: 60 – 69

Have you heard the saying: “Nothing succeeds like success”?
Well, you only have to look at politicians to see how true this is. When they’re riding high, everybody follows them. But as soon as things begin to go wrong, their supporters leave like rats from a sinking ship. And once it starts it doesn’t stop, does it? Even their closest colleagues begin to walk away from them, because they don’t want to be tarred with the same brush.

And perhaps it was a bit like this with Jesus. In the beginning men and women were flocking to him. Saint John, who wrote this account, has already told us that when Jesus was in Jerusalem at the Passover, many people saw his miracles and believed in him. His disciples could hardly keep up with the baptisms of the huge numbers who were turning to him; and only the day before the discussion which we’ve just heard, the crowds had flocked to him and he’d fed them miraculously.

But now he was explaining the feeding. He said that the real bread which he’d give them would be his own flesh and blood. He said that by taking his life into their life, by feeding on him, they were taking into themselves the very life of God. He was claiming to be divine;and they realised this.

They also knew that as far as the Authorities were concerned , this kind of talk was blasphemy, and blasphemy was dangerous. The punishment was death. That’s why many of the people who’d been following Jesus began to desert him. They saw quite clearly just where he was heading. They recognised the dangers of being associated with somebody like this; somebody who was heading for disaster by challenging the powers that be.

They knew that Jesus wouldn’t be able to do this and get away with it; and they feared that if they were seen to be followers of this man, well, they’d be tarred with the same brush. They would probably face the same charges of blasphemy and the same penalty. And so they slipped away.

Those who drifted off would probably have stuck with Jesus so long as his career was on the upward path, but as soon as the first shadow of the cross fell on him ,they left. They were happy to follow him when they were getting something from him. It was great to be fed , but the possibility of suffering for him and giving something back to him, that was a different matter, and they quit.

And perhaps there’s a lesson here for us. Very often it’s great to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus. Things can go along swimmingly. We go to church as long as something more important doesn’t crop up. We meet up with decent like-minded people and we may well feel that we’re contributing to making the world a better place as we donate a bit of our spare money to good causes. We feel good about ourselves.

And then the crunch comes. It may not be as vivid as the crunch which came to those first followers, but it will be of exactly the same type.
Let me give you one or two examples:

You’re getting on well at work, or in the neighbourhood, and then it becomes clear that you’re a Christian, go to church and all that kind of stuff. Now, make no mistake about it, if you’re a Christian today a lot of people will think that you’ve lost the plot or that you’re a silly do-gooder, and you may well be laughed at or made the butt of jokes.

How do you handle that? What do you do? You may well be tempted to play down your commitment, or to pretend that in your case you only go to please somebody else. And if you do this you’re walking away from Jesus just as surely as those first followers.

You see, we all walk away from Jesus. We’re all tempted in different ways, and you will know the particular way in which you’re tempted to desert him. The important thing is not to be blind to it, and when it happens, as it will, we must acknowledge it, accept the forgiveness of Jesus and go back. We need to remember that in following Jesus there is always a cross.

This was the pattern for Peter, the leader of the Apostles, and it will be the pattern for us too. Peter ran away from Jesus right at the end, but he came back. He came back because he’d recognised from those early days, the fact that there was just no one else to go to. For Peter, Jesus alone had the words of eternal life.

There were many things which he didn’t understand; he was as bewildered and puzzled as anyone else, but his heart had felt the pull of the magnet which is the love of God in Christ. He felt this pull even whilst he was walking away from Jesus at his trial. And it was a pull which produced an allegiance and a love from a heart which would not allow him to do anything else, but to be pulled back. A pull which is ours too.
May we all feel it each day of our lives. Amen.

John 6: 51-58.

We all want to be healthy, and we worry when we’re sick. So, we protect our bodies when we do things which we know might injure us; And we try to avoid cuts at all costs. If you’re like most people, you suffer when your body receives a cut.

We find it hard to think of injuring ourselves on purpose for any reason, and the sight of blood for many people is something which makes them look away.
So it’s almost impossible to think about giving our flesh for someone to eat; and it’s easy for us to imagine the reaction from those who heard the words of Jesus about eating his body.

Jesus said in the gospel passage we heard just now, that he was the “living bread that came down from heaven”. He told us that this bread is “his flesh which he would give for the life of the world” and that “whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood would have eternal life and would be raised up on the last day.”

Try to imagine the effect that such words would have had on a Jewish crowd. For them, just as for us, even thinking about eating the flesh of another person was repulsive. It was, and still is, against the Jewish Law to eat animal flesh from which the blood hasn’t been properly drained. The Jews would have found these words of Jesus absolutely horrific.

And there’s more! Jesus goes on to say that he shares God’s life in a special way and wants to bring other people into this relationship with God through sharing his own life, his own flesh and blood, with them.
To the Jews, this would have been blasphemy.

So then, how can we take these difficult words? What do they mean for our relationship with Jesus?

Well, first of all we need to realise that even modern religious practice makes use of ancient ideas.
It’s a fact that every life lives off another living thing. Many pagan religions recognised this, and would often hold sacred meals in which they thought they were sharing in the life of their god . They believed that by eating meat sacrificed to their god, they would share in their god‘s life.

And Christianity uses this kind of language as a way of understanding how believers take divine life into themselves. The beginning of St.John’s gospel tells us that at the incarnation the “Word was made flesh”.
This is the same as saying that the flesh of Christ contains God’s life for us all.

It’s easy to understand that food and life go together. Unless we eat we die. Food, symbolised by bread, which will of course eventually rot, keeps us in physical life, which as we know, ends in death. This was the bread, or manna, which Moses gave to Israel in the desert.

Living bread for the Christian Community, which is the new Israel, keeps us in a lasting life that triumphs over death. If we want lasting life we must eat this bread of life.

God the Father, gives Jesus, the bread from heaven. The work of Jesus is to give lasting life to believers. This is the work which God has given him. And our work is to believe this. Eating and drinking can be understood as taking the very life of Jesus into the centre of our hearts.
We need to saturate our hearts and our minds and our souls with Jesus, the very life of God. We need to be so filled with him that his very self becomes a part of us.

We know now that the gospel passage which we’ve just heard may be taken as a reference to Holy Communion. Bread can’t be shared until it’s broken. Wine can’t be drunk until it’s poured out. We take the bread and drink from the cup with the knowledge that it was shared with us out of love; as God’s sacrifice for us

The heavenly food is made available through the breaking and bleeding and death of Jesus. This sharing of himself is made mysteriously present in the Eucharist, and Jesus explains that through the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood, we will be raised up with him on the last day. It’s his promise to live through us as we receive him.

In the Eucharist Jesus invites us to the fullness of life that only the Son of God can give. This beginning will lead, through death to a life more glorious than anything we can imagine. Can we pass up such a love as this? Can we honestly turn away from the one who gave himself for us?

Think on these things when you come forward in a few moments, and give thanks to God for the body of Christ that keeps you in eternal life. Remember these words of Jesus:

“ My flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink.” Amen.

John 6; 41-51.

Moses led the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. He was the first prophet to speak the word of God to the people, and his authority was confirmed by the miracles which he worked. Now, long after the Exodus, in the time of Jesus, the Jewish people were again enslaved. Their country was occupied by Roman forces and they were looking for deliverance. Their scriptures told them that God’s salvation would arrive during a future Passover festival, when a prophet like Moses would return to lead the people away from political oppression. A time when God would feed them once more, by giving them manna from heaven.

And this was now happening. But, the crowds in today’s gospel reading seem to have forgotten much of their tradition, and their main interest in Jesus was due to the food which he gave them to eat.

However Jesus quickly brought them back to the point that they were looking for him for the wrong reasons. He used their scriptures to teach them that he is himself the most important gift from God. They’d been fed physically, but they’d missed the spiritual portion completely. They imagined that food was God’s most important gift, but he told them not to work for the food that will eventually go bad. Instead, he said they should seek the food which will always last.

And this food was himself, Jesus, God’s Christ, the Son of the Father, the I AM, who is God’s life for the world.

The conversation between Jesus and the people has two levels of meaning. Jesus was talking in metaphors about God’s truth, but the people heard and thought in earthly terms. As readers of this Gospel we stand in a privileged position between Jesus and the people. We know far less than Jesus who teaches us, but far more than the people who never seemed to have a clue about their ignorance, or Jesus’s meanings.

If we allow ourselves to stand with the people in this story, but also use our capacity to hear and understand Jesus then we can learn a very profound lesson indeed.

Like the people, we wonder about Jesus. Who is he? Where did he come from and what’s he doing here? As we listen to his voice in this gospel story he gives us the answer to these questions and to more. We have a tendency to come to Jesus for the wrong reasons. Most often to get something from him that is far less than he’s willing to give. Our limited understanding gives us small expectations. Perhaps we seek things that are able to make life easier or more acceptable; like the manna which came through Moses.
The sad thing about this is that we may become so content with it that we never experience the freedom which comes from faith in Jesus.

The miracle of the feeding, and the discussion which goes with it, holds together two things. The people are fed to the full and they are shown Christ, the light of the world.
The people were fed with bread and fish but there was still a deep hunger in them which would not be satisfied until they recognized who fed them. Until they recognized who Jesus really was.

And so it is with us. Jesus comes to us as the grace of God, to call us out of our limited way of living. God’s gift to us is to relate us to Christ in order that we might enjoy a fullness of life that is God’s real intention for our living. If as a result of reading or listening to this gospel story we raise our level of expectations then we have heard what the passage is saying. In Jesus, God is calling us beyond the present limits of our living to a new life which is immersed in, and full of God himself.

It took work for the crowd to follow Jesus. No doubt it was hard work to follow him to the mountain to be fed; it must also have been hard work getting across the sea to Capernaum. And now Jesus told them that just as they’d worked for physical food they must work for the spiritual food which would always keep them alive in God.
This food would be given to them by him. It was no less than his own life, and the work which they must do to be given it was to believe that Jesus really was God’s gift of life to the world. Jesus was telling the well fed though weary crowd just to believe in what God was doing for them through him.

Belief was work for them. Belief is work for us too. All the work that we are required to do is to have a certainty in our mind and heart about God and God’s Son. And yet we continue to find this difficult. Some Christians think that they’re not doing enough, and some no doubt, think that they’re doing more than enough. And both of these mistaken positions are based on good works; the good and the bad things that we do. But the centre of our Lord’s teaching in the passage that we’ve just heard is really quite different. Jesus said: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

At the Last Supper, Jesus himself took bread and broke it; he poured out wine and offered these things to his followers with the words “This is my body” and “This is my blood”. “Do this”, he said, “to remember me”. He told them, and he tells us through them, to keep on breaking, pouring, eating and drinking in order to remember him. And there is very good reason to believe that these words mean: “do this to make me present”.

Remember this when you come to receive Holy Communion in a few moments, for as you take, eat and drink, you are feeding on Christ himself. You are completing all the work which Jesus requires, and through it you are being kept in eternal life.

Amen.

John 6; 24-35

Jesus told the men and women who’d found him in Capernaum after the miraculous feeding , that he knew they were following him because he’d fed their physical hunger. He went on to tell them that they shouldn’t follow him because he could do this, but instead, they should do God’s work, and then Jesus would reward them with food that lasts for ever.
And when they pressed him to tell them what this involved, his answer was, to say the least, absolutely amazing.

He said “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent”
Now, a lot of people believe that in order to inherit eternal life ,you have to be a fairly good kind of person.
Most people who aren’t Christians and, unfortunately, many who are, believe that God rewards good deeds by giving away places in heaven to those people who’ve shown that they’ve worked hard enough to deserve such a place.
And they would go on to say that the other place, which is a bit warmer, is where you go when you’ve been pretty bad , because at the last judgement God will sort out the sheep from the goats. And if you haven’t made the grade; well, “Off you go, then”

This way of looking at “salvation” is very, very common. It’s the teaching of Islam , and indeed, of most world religions And it’s a great tragedy when Christian people believe it to be true, because it’s wrong.
The whole Christian Gospel can be summed up in these words:
“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that all who believe in him should not perish, but might have everlasting life”
This means that we are forgiven people. Yes, from the very beginning.
There’s no good work that we can do which will make us right with the Holy God. He accepts us just as we are. That’s what Jesus was all about. It’s not as though God loves us; then we sin, so God stops loving us, until we say, “sorry God” and God replies by saying: “OK, then, I’ll forgive you and love you again, but just watch yourself in future.”
It doesn’t work like that. God’s love and forgiveness are unconditional.

We need to accept this, of course. We need to appropriate it to ourselves. We need to stop struggling to prove either to God, to ourselves or to other people, that we really are good enough because of our own puny efforts, because, you see, we just aren’t.
The Good News is that it’s all been done in Jesus. That’s what he said in the gospel passage which we’ve just heard.
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst”
It’s when we recognise this truth, and join our lives to the life of Jesus through the sacraments of the church, that he begins to live in us more and more. It’s then that his life begins to be expressed through our lives and our good works become a response to the love of God, instead of a silly attempt to gain credit.

There are many ways of looking at the crucifixion, but one which I find most helpful is the one which says that on the cross we see the love of God fully displayed.
An unconditional love. A total love. A love which asks nothing of us except that we accept it as God’s gift.

We will probably need help in being brought to this point, and that’s where the sacrament of penance, or confession can help. But the danger is that we may even begin to see this as a way in which we win God’s approval instead of a recognition that, we are brought into a right relationship with God simply by accepting his freely offered forgiveness. An offer which is made plain to us when we hear the Lord’s words of absolution spoken through the priest. And then those words of Jesus will set us free from all of the burdens which religion can place on the backs of God’s children.

For this, Jesus died. Amen.

John 6. Jesus feeds 5000

I want to talk to you about two people I used to know. One was named “Jack “. The other was called “Emma ”
Jack was a clever man. As a youngster he studied science at Cambridge, and then became interested in philosophy. He soon became attracted by the logical beauty of Christianity and converted to the Faith.

Jack’s approach to miracles was always to look for a reasonable explanation. Healing miracles presented him with no problem because he was well aware of the relationship between mind and body. Nature miracles were a bit more difficult, but Jack soon discovered some liberal theologians who, for example, suggested that the true miracle of the feeding of the 5000 was the influence of Jesus which caused those listening to him to share their food. He felt that any other explanation would place Jesus on the level of a magician, and this was, he said, offensive.

Jack believed, quite rightly, that Jesus was completely human, and he saw very clearly that unless Jesus was fully identified with human beings he would be unable to represent or help them. However, Jack was in deep trouble. In his efforts to explain Jesus, he’d allowed himself to be pushed to an extreme position. A position which tried to explain the presence of God in Christ by avoiding the claims to being divine.

Jack’s position became more and more difficult, and he finally lost his faith.

Emma was full of life. She was a lovely person, friendly and outgoing and liked by everyone who met her. She was the kind of girl whose head was ruled by her heart and she depended on her instincts to lead her. She had never been really interested in academic learning and found most of that stuff pretty boring.

When she met some charismatic Christians she was immediately attracted by their warm sincerity. She found that as she joined them in worship she experienced a depth of emotion which was truly satisfying. She slipped easily into phrases like “being born again” or “knowing Jesus”. Unlike Jack, she had absolutely no problems with anything that she read in Scripture. She didn’t need to ask herself what “being born again” meant, or how “knowing Jesus” made sense. For her, it was obvious that God could perform miracles and that Jesus was God. Although she wouldn’t publicly admit to it, she began to think of Jesus as though he just seemed to be a man. Because after all, men don’t perform miracles do they?

Things were just fine for a year or two, but then the going got tough, and she desperately needed to know that God really knew what it was like to suffer. She needed to be able to take what little she had to the Lord in order that he might bless it, multiply it and return it to her.

But because she took a totally literal approach to Scripture she read the story of the feeding of 5000 simply at the level of Jesus magically multiplying loaves and fishes; as proof that he was God. She was unable to see deeper into the story and because of this, the healing power of God’s word was not available to her.
Emma had never struggled with her Faith; she had never really doubted anything, and as a result, her roots weren’t very deep. Shortly afterwards she dropped her church contacts and lost her Faith.

Do you know Jack? Do you know Emma? I do, because the extreme positions which they both represent, pull within me and create a tension which is sometimes quite difficult to live with. Jack’s mistake was to concentrate on the humanity of Jesus at the expense of his divinity. Emma’s mistake was to concentrate on the divinity of Jesus at the expense of his humanity.

But our faith is that Jesus was God and man. Our claim is that Jesus came from a woman’s womb, grew from a baby, got hungry and tired and angry, suffered and died. And yet was divine. All of this is shocking and amazing. Humans are finite, fallible and mortal; God is infinite, infallible and immortal. How can one person be both at the same time? Well, it took the early Church about 400 years to produce a statement on this.

Perhaps then, we’re in good company when we too find it almost impossible to grasp.

But a part of being a Christian is to live with this tension. And it will pull us sometimes one-way, and sometimes the other, and that’s why we need to be aware of the dangers of either extreme position. Indeed, it seems to me that living with all kinds of tensions is part of being a Christian.

We have to live with the tension of being members of the Kingdom of Heaven, and yet also belonging to an earthly kingdom, and this pulls us about.

We have to live with the tension of being “in Christ” and yet also acknowledging that quite frequently we deny him . And this tension can sometimes be almost unbearable.

We have to live with the tension of trusting Christ and yet frequently being too afraid to do this, and this tension can often make us deeply ashamed.

And yes, we have to live with the tension of our 21st century minds reading a first century story. A tension which will sometimes pull us towards one understanding, and sometimes towards a different one.
But perhaps most importantly, a tension which will allow God’s word to work deeply within us . A tension which allows us movement as the Holy Spirit helps us to reflect until the text speaks to us personally. And this reflection will lead us to different positions which are appropriate to where we are on our Christian journey .

I know I shall never be like Emma, and I know that a part of my Christian life is to struggle with scripture. I’m not a literalist, but I now understand the Anglican theologian Tom Wright who teaches that the multiplication of fish and bread is literally just what you might expect when God’s compassion and power flow in an unrestricted way through a human being who was totally obedient to his heavenly Father.

But we must never worry because we can’t accept or understand something which we read in scripture, or something which the church teaches. Christianity doesn’t work by forcing yourself into trying to believe 15 impossible things before breakfast.

It works by offering your doubts, your anxieties your confusions and your deepest wishes to God, for his use. And it doesn’t matter how meagre your offerings are, as long as you bring them with your whole heart. He will accept them, purify them, multiply them and give them back to you so that you might give them away in his service .

Thank God for Christian tension.

Amen

Mark 6.30-34; 53-56

There can be no doubt about the compassion which Jesus felt for the crowds who just wouldn’t give him a minute’s rest. He was sorry for them, because they were without proper leadership, and the regular biblical way of describing the people of Israel when they had no leader or king , was as “sheep without a shepherd “ And this is a good comparison.

Sheep are helpless creatures. They follow each other almost blindly and are easily thrown into a panic. They overeat, lie down and then find it impossible to get up. And they won’t come in out of the rain.
Do you know anybody like that? Perhaps the only thing that keeps sheep alive is the fact that they follow their shepherd.

Our story makes it clear that Jesus didn’t have compassion on the people because they were poor or sick. His compassion was because he knew the people were without a leader and were well and truly lost. Not lost in the sense that they didn’t know where they were geographically, but lost in the sense of being without the kind of purpose in life that comes from being under the leadership of God. And people like this can soon go on to say :-
“I’ve lost control of my family, my job, my emotions and my life, and I don’t know if I shall ever be able to find my way again. “

When you feel like that you start to grasp at anything, and then it’s easy to get drawn into a place of much deeper darkness. Like sheep, people who are lost are easily misled, and there is no shortage of bad shepherds ready to exploit them. When people are looking for a purpose, or a shepherd, we must never assume that they will automatically find a good one.

We are easily led into a whole range of dangerous beliefs and practises. Think of those leaders of political movements which are basically evil and work by exploiting our natural feelings of patriotism. The National Front Movement for example. Or Fundamental religious groups which may claim to speak for Islam or even for Christ. False shepherds can entice us to stray into the most dangerous places, and like lost sheep we often follow each other.

C. S. Lewis was an Anglican theologian who suggested that hell wasn’t a place to which wicked people are sent. He said that people got there as a result of bad choices. Like finding ourselves lost in a dark and dangerous place and then realising that no one is coming to show us the way out.

I read a copy of a classified advertisement a while back. Perhaps it was written as a joke , but let me read it to you. This is what it said: “Lost. One dog. Brown hair with mange. Leg broken. Blind in right eye. Left ear bitten off. Answers to the name of “Lucky”. “

We might think at first that the poor dog was unfortunate in the extreme, but, of course, a little thought shows us that he was really a very lucky animal indeed. He was lucky because even with all of those things wrong with him,somebody still wanted him and was doing everything to get him back.

Aren’t you and I lucky? Jesus told a story about a shepherd who got home with 99 out of 100 sheep. You and I might have been satisfied with that, but the shepherd wasn’t. God’s arithmetic is different to ours and that’s really good news. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who wants us, and keeps trying to get us back no matter how often we follow the other sheep and get lost.

And Jesus is the human face of God. This is what God is like, he won’t let us go, and he follows us until he finds us.
Then all we have to do,like the men and women in the frantic crowds who pressed up against him in Galilee ,is to touch the hem of his garment and we shall be made well and brought home again. Amen.

Matthew 14. 22-23

History can be true in ways which are timeless; and sometimes it can be helpful to see a miracle as a window through which we can glimpse something of the love of God in Christ.
And so, the story of how Jesus appeared to his disciples, walking towards them over the water when their own strength was nearly gone, can help us think about the ways in which Jesus comes to meet us today. You see, we’re all like the disciples in the boat. They’d seen a lot of him; they’d listened to his teaching and prayed his special prayer. They’d followed him, probably at some personal cost, and they’d tried to put his teaching into practise. But now they were stuck. They were struggling to make headway; their boat was in great danger, and there was nothing they could do.

Do you ever feel this describes life for you? You may be good at what you have to do. You may be a committed Christian, a disciple of Jesus and things are going along nicely. And then the bottom drops out of your world.
It seems that despite your prayers and your best efforts the situation just gets worse and worse.
Someone whom you love very much becomes desperately ill, and you’re powerless to help. All you can do is watch them as they suffer, and ask yourself time after time, “Why must it be like this?”
Or perhaps you lose your job, and maybe your home, through no fault of your own, and you struggle, you really struggle to make ends meet. Such misfortune can bring us to the very end of our tether, and sometimes it can break us.

At these times, Jesus may seem to be a pale and distant figure, unrelated to us and our problems. We can all understand this from our own experience, and isn’t this exactly the circumstance which the disciples were facing as they were struggling to keep their little boat upright in a very heavy storm?
If we’re honest, do we have the faith to trust Jesus in desperate situations?
Do we have the spiritual energy to be bothered? Do we even care? Or are we so consumed with our own blackness that any thoughts about Jesus are quickly dissolved in our anger at the way in which we feel he’s let us down?
But, despite our feelings, we need to keep our eyes on him. Especially at times like these, because if we don’t then we shan’t see when he begins to do the impossible.

Peter saw Jesus in the middle of the storm. Our Lord came to him when his own efforts were nearly all spent. Peter recognised him and responded to the invitation to trust, but then he looked away and saw the waves. He took his eyes off Jesus and at that moment he began to sink.
And, you know, it’s just the same for us. There are times when we seem to be in the middle of a raging storm. Times when we’re exhausted and tempted to give up. But at those times, we really need to look up from the waves and the disaster all around us and listen once more to Jesus as he says:
“ Trust me; why have all this doubt?”

There are many times when Jesus asks us to do what may seem impossible. How can we even begin to do the task for which he’s called us? How can we possibly give up that sin which really has us in its grip?
How can we possibly breathe the same air as that awful man or woman who seems intent on being rude and placing obstacles in our path? How on earth could we expect to develop a serious prayer life when we’re surrounded by so much frantic trouble?
Well, if like Peter we continue to look at the waves then, yes, we’ll sink. We’ll sink because we’ll really believe that the situation is truly impossible and that God has left us alone. But this isn’t so. What we’ve been called to do is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, and our ears open for his encouragement, even if it contains a rebuke. And our wills and hearts must be ready to do what he says. Even if it seems crazy at the time.

Remember the story of the feeding of the 5000.
The disciples must have thought that the distribution of such a small amount of food to so many people was crazy. But they did as Jesus asked and there was more than enough.
And we should never forget that he may choose to speak to us in unexpected ways. Perhaps even through that person whom we can’t stand.
Perhaps this is why we need to ask Jesus to open our eyes and our ears to his presence for us, not just in a beautiful church when we’re involved with what we might think are holy things. But also in the dirty, messy experiences of everyday life. In the encounters with ordinary men and women. In the strained relationships; in the muck and the mire and the lies and the deceit. Jesus is there in the middle of our shame. He’s there for us and he’s holding out his hand.
All we need to do is to look up, smile, and take it.

Matthew 17. 1-9 The Transfiguration

Sometimes we’re privileged to see God’s Peace in other people. I can remember a lady in Wonford Hospital who was very poorly, and yet who was content to die. She had no fear, and she told me as well as the doctors who were attending her, that she was ready to meet God. And I sensed her peace.

I saw this serenity again, in the patience and tranquillity of an elderly gentleman who’d been hospitalised for several months after falling down stairs. He was 97 years old and there was hardly a part of his body that he could move by himself. If anyone had a right to feel sorry, angry, or at the end of their tether, he did. But you could almost feel the presence of God within him.

And so, I can begin to understand just a little bit about the sense of being in the presence of the Son of God which was the great experience of Peter John and James, described in the Gospel reading which we heard just now. The experience which we call the Transfiguration.

We’ve no way of knowing just what was going on before the event took place. Was Jesus praying with his disciples perhaps ? Or was he praying alone?

Maybe he was talking with them about the significance of Moses or Elijah. We just don’t know. But I expect that like me, you’ve sometimes glimpsed something of the peace and beauty of God in other people. And sometimes we meet people who are so close to God, so full of his Holy Spirit, that they seem to glow.

Do you remember the way in which St Paul wrote about the way in which the face of Moses used to shine after he’d been with God? There must surely have been something of this nature about the appearance of Jesus at that time of the Transfiguration.
We’ve no way of being up that particular mountain with Peter John and James, but the presence of Jesus is all around us. It’s this presence which brings peace in the uncertainties and difficulties which face us all. It’s this presence which brings the peace which can transfigure a world which sometimes seems to be collapsing under our feet.

Peter, James and John had their eyes opened on that mountain top. Do you remember the account in St Mark’s gospel where a blind man had his sight restored in stages? Well, Jesus had tried to explain to Peter that God would be revealed through a Messiah who suffered, died and failed; but Peter just couldn’t get a handle on that. But like the blind man , his eyes were opened further at the Transfiguration. The ordinariness of Jesus was pierced for a while and these three saw him as he really was.

But they still had much more to learn, and their eyes were only fully opened after his death. They continued to follow him, but at the end they all gave up and ran away. They ran away because they could see that Jesus was indeed an outstanding failure, and they hadn’t yet reached the understanding that it was through this failure that Jesus was to show the meaning of God.

Jesus shows us God, by showing us what it means to be human. And really being human means being in the muddle and mess that Jesus was in. This is where God is. Peter wanted to grasp the divinity without the failure, but the flash of the divine, the glimpse of meaning, only comes out of the failure. Out of the Cross. There’s no place to find God except in man, and no way to find man except in Jesus Christ.

The Cross helps us to recognise Jesus when we meet him in the random encounters we have with those who suddenly need us .There’s no straight and settled road towards God. The coming of the Son of Man is like a lightning bolt, and you never know when the revelation is to be offered to you.

Perhaps at the most unlikely moment , just when you’re at your most irritable with that boring, grasping person who needs you. The gospel makes us ready for the sudden transfiguration of such moments; ready to see God, to see Christ in the mess of being human.

The temptation , of course, is to stay up the mountain where we might have experienced God’s peace. But the time always comes in this life when we have to come down and live on the plain.
The peace , or the sense of it, may fade. It might even fade to the extent that you begin to doubt that you’ve ever experienced it. That’s why it’s good to speak of it, or perhaps discuss it with a friend.
We need to remind ourselves when we’re walking in the dark places of the valley, that we’ve been up on the mountain top, but until the Lord has prepared us more deeply , it would be more than we could stand to live there permanently.

But if we listen to him he will take us back again and again in ways that will help us to recognise his transfigured presence amongst us today. The word that comes to us, leading us on to follow Jesus, is the same word that came from the cloud on that strange day in Galilee. A word which rings out through the shining image of Christ the Son of God.

A word for us, not just for Peter, James and John. God continues to say:   “This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased”.

Listen to him!   Amen.