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Luke 9: 28-43

The Transfiguration

Surprises often happen when we’re least expecting them. Sometimes when we’re tired or perhaps confused, or maybe a bit down.

Perhaps it was like that with Peter, James and John. They’d been following Jesus for some time now, and they must have wondered just who he was.

They must also have been really tired with the constant comings and goings of so many people, and the knowledge that the Authorities really weren’t best pleased with their leader. They were probably a bit frightened, too.

And now, here he was, leading them up a mountain path because presumably he wanted to say some prayers with them, and hill tops were good places to be alone without the press of the crowds.

We can work out how tired they must have been because we’re told they were very sleepy. And then, the surprise broke right in to their sleepiness, and for a moment they saw Jesus as he really was. Whatever they actually saw or heard, left them with absolutely no doubt that Jesus was God’s chosen one. They were convinced that he was the fulfilment of the Jewish Law, and the one of whom the prophets had spoken down through the ages. That’s what the presence of Moses who represented The Law, and Elijah, who represented The Prophets, was meant to tell them.

Now, will it surprise you if I tell you that you’ve probably had experiences like this as well?

Let me remind you of a few lines from a hymn which you might know.
It goes like this:

“Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises with healing in his wings;
When comforts are declining, he grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.”

Experiences like this can happen right out of the blue. Perhaps you’ve been saying some prayers; maybe even struggling, and wondering where on earth all those people who tell you that prayer is easy, have been all their lives. Perhaps you don’t know what to say, or where to start; you might even feel like giving up. And then, right out of nowhere, something grips you. You don’t need any words; you don’t need to say or do anything. You just know, at a very deep level that God is very close to you.

You may feel moved to tears without really understanding why .You might just feel a great sense of peace. But you won’t want the moment to end.

This was Peter’s experience wasn’t it?

“Master “he said, “It’s good for us to be here. Let’s put up three shelters; one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah”

He wanted to prolong the experience. He’d been given a glimpse of who Jesus was, and he didn’t want the moment to end. But it had to end.

You might become acutely aware of the presence of Jesus, in your prayers. Or perhaps through a beautiful sunset, or as you lose yourself in a piece of music or a song which is special to you.

It probably won’t happen very often, and it’s always something which is right outside of your control .You might want to stay with the moment, but in my experience, it can be very hard to do that. You just have to come away from it. It’s too intense.

And all of these things are “the light which surprises the Christian whilst he sings.” Just as the author of our hymn tells us, they’re nothing less than “The Lord who rises with healing in his wings.”

I think we’re given these rare experiences when we need them most. We can’t conjure them up, and often they come when things have been going badly, but not always. And sometimes I think God might well withhold them from us because He wants us to live by faith.

But we need to remember them, because like Peter, James and John, we shan’t stay on the mountain for long.

Our gospel passage tells us how very shortly after leaving the mountain top, they found themselves back in everyday life surrounded by people who needed Jesus to heal them. They met their friends who, we’re told, were unable to help the little lad who was having the epileptic fit.

We have to live our lives in the valley, not on the mountain top. And all too often the valley seems a dark and difficult place. But Jesus is right there with us. We won’t be aware of His presence for most of the time, and that’s why it’s so important to remember those times when you’ve met him on the mountain.

And then you can call on him from where you are in the valley, and you can be confident that He will hear you.

Amen.

Luke 4: 1-13

Temptation to sin comes in all kinds of ways, but my guess would be that in popular opinion, the sins of the flesh are quite close to the top of the list.

Now, it may be that, resistance to this kind of temptation is an area in which you can claim the moral high ground. But before you feel superior to your neighbour whom you know is involved in a secret affair, what’s your position on drinking? Or how do you feel about your personal savings in the face of appalling world poverty?

Or whilst we’re at it, do you ever fantasize about getting even with someone for a wrong which they did to you, years ago?

The point I’m trying to make, of course, is that we all fall short somewhere or other and some of us fall short in many places at the same time.

Even if you’ve successfully resisted all of the evils that are commonly described as sin, you may well be left in a state of self-righteousness and pride. So, it seems that if we focus on how good we are we miss the point.  

People are often challenged,  or even taunted, to prove themselves. And Jesus faced a series of such challenges in the gospel reading which we’ve just heard. They were challenges to prove himself. They weren’t temptations to do evil things.

Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread, to jump from the top of the Temple, and to be Lord of all the earth. Some people will tell you that these things were bad in themselves, but we need to remember that the same Jesus turned water into wine, fed a crowd of people with five loaves and two fish, rose from the dead and is now proclaimed as “King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords”.

His temptation wasn’t to do bad things, it was to do good things for the wrong reasons.  In the temptation story, Jesus is tempted to please someone other than God. He’s tempted to please his followers, leaders of nations around the world and even himself, by a series of demonstrations designed to show how good he was at getting things done.

But the point is that it’s only God who’s good, and our job is to do only those things which are pleasing to God. To do something good, or to refrain from doing something bad , simply or to satisfy our friends or families or ourselves isn’t enough ,  because it fails the commandment to worship God alone. This, I think, is the real meaning of the temptation to sin.

The temptations then,  invited Jesus to use God rather than to be used by him. But Jesus showed his true power by remaining loyal to God. All  of this  is in contrast to what Adam did.

He pleased himself, and because we’re human we share Adam’s nature and continue to do the same kind of things. All of us without exception, from the most holy person down; we are all as they say, “in Adam”.

 In Adam’s temptation and failure we see our own sinfulness very clearly and in Christ’s victory over temptation we see the victory that God makes possible for us. Like Adam we have a tendency to do what pleases us. Whereas Jesus always did what pleased God.

 No matter how hard we struggle, by our own efforts we shall all fall short. So, in the end all that counts is for us to be found in Christ.

Because we all share Adam’s nature, then inasmuch as we are in Adam, we shall fail. But, we also share Christ’s nature because we’ve been given a place within it through baptism and the Holy Spirit. We are in Christ, and therefore in Christ we share in the victory over temptation and sin. Yes, It’s probably quite true that we’re not in Christ as fully as we would like to be, but to grow in anything takes time. The work of the Holy Spirit is to change us as the hymn says, “from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place”

The glory of the gospel is that God has done everything in Jesus that is necessary for us to become a part of this great movement towards God. The work of the Holy Spirit is to make us holy, to sanctify us, to make us divine. 

Does that surprise you? At The Eucharist, when water is mixed with wine  the celebrant quietly says  “ As this water mixes with wine, may we share in Christ’s divinity, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

And so, I want to leave you with this thought. If you are rather an accomplished sinner, take heart. Don’t despair, God understands and loves you, just as much as he loves the greatest saint. You are in Christ and everything needful has been done. You are becoming divine. Rejoice in this, and you will find that God’s holy angels will be sent to help you just as they were sent to  wait on Jesus  all those years ago. 

Amen.

Luke 6: 27-36

Jesus reminded his Jewish followers that God had chosen them to be a people through whom he would show the world just what he was like. They were to do this  by watching and imitating God. They weren’t chosen because they were his favorites. They were chosen for service.

They were chosen to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Through them, God was going to bless everybody, and here was Jesus really opening this up in his own person. By teaching all who would listen, that they mustn’t respond to bad treatment with more of the same, because that wasn’t the way of the God who wanted to reveal himself to the whole world, through them.

The Jewish people knew all about being treated unfairly by their many enemies. Their history is soaked in oppression; it must have been almost unbearable to have been occupied by nation after nation of foreigners who’d conquered them. They knew all about being treated harshly. They’d been conquered in war; taken into exile. Imprisoned, taxed, tortured and killed. And the Roman occupation at the time of Jesus was just another in a long line.

On top of all this there were divisions within Jewish society itself. Just like the way in which we can see our own society divided. A few people were very rich, often at the expense of ordinary folk , most of whom were poor; some, very poor indeed.

The justice system, which we can read about in the Old Testament, and to which Jesus refers in our passage today, and expands in Mathews version of the same account ,was designed so that revenge didn’t run away into escalating violence.

“An eye for an eye” might seem harsh to us, but it was a lot less harsh than the blood feuds which were so common in the Middle East, and which we can still see in Muslim communities today, which often turn a blind eye to vengeance in the name of “family honour.”

And so it can help us to see that what we might consider to be permission to meet violence with violence was really an attempt to keep violence in control by setting strong limits to revenge.

Jesus, took this seed of God’s word, and grew it up into the plant which it contained.  The plant which would show very clearly, the astonishingly patient love of God. The God who wanted Israel to reflect his patient and gentle love into the world in which they lived.

The examples which he gave, might seem strange to us , but they were very real instances of the kind of thing which was common place in the time of Jesus.

We don’t insult someone by hitting them on the right cheek with the back of our right hand. But this was a pretty standard way of insulting someone 2000 years ago. Modern soldiers don’t order civilians to carry their packs, but this was a standard procedure for the Roman Army.

So we need to see these illustrations as little examples designed to give us the general idea. We need to think our own situations through like this. What would we need to do in order to reflect God’s generous love into our world despite the pressure and the provocation which we may be facing? How should we behave in spite of our own anger and frustration?

And when we’ve worked out the answers and try to live by them, we’ll fail time after time. All of our good intentions and our fresh starts will seem to evaporate with the rising sun.

But when we feel like this, we should remember the good news was that Jesus didn’t just talk about all of this. He did it himself. When he was mocked, he didn’t respond. When he was challenged he often replied with humorous stories which forced his opponents to think again. When he was struck, he took the pain. When he was nailed to the cross, he prayed for his executioners.

The Sermon on the Mount, of which this passage is a part, isn’t just about how to behave. It’s about discovering the living God in the loving and dying Jesus.

And when we begin to make that discovery then we can begin to learn how to reflect that love in our own lives, into a world that needs it so badly. Yes, this will take time, and yes, we shall often fail. But we have no reason to despair.

Everything that’s necessary has been done. We know how we need to respond, and it’s really very simple.

As we believe on the Lord, his Holy Spirit takes possession of us and changes us into images of Jesus.

This transformation of us into Christ is called sanctification, and it’s going on in us often at a level of which we are not always aware.

But it is taking place, sometimes very quickly, and sometimes very slowly. Please believe this, and draw comfort. Especially if a part of what you’ve heard today makes you feel uncomfortable.

Yes, of course we need all the help that we can get. We need the presence of Jesus in each other. We need to meet him in his Holy Word and in the sacraments of the Church. We need to be constantly reminded through the sacrament of reconciliation, so sadly almost forgotten now, that God loves us despite our failures.

But when we do allow him to serve us like this; as he’s formed in us, so do we begin to think, talk and act like him. And then, we too will learn to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.

Amen.

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