s130g00 Somerton Park Sunday 18 6/8/2000
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." John 6:35
It is an obvious fact, yet despite it's truth, we are apt to overlook it as we come to Church and listen to these wonderful words of promise from Jesus - it is an obvious fact - that there are many many people who do believe in Jesus, yet through no fault of their own, through no lack of faith on their part, do indeed go hungry and thirsty. There are many Christians for whom the manna has not come, for whom the water has not flown from the rock.
Indeed one suspects much of the attraction of Christianity in developing countries is the close association our faith has with the prosperous and dominant western culture. It may well seem to some that the "benefits" of western civilisation are somehow linked to the Christian faith. Sadly some of the treasures of people's culture of birth have been both suppressed by the Church and neglected by the emerging generations. Only now in some places is the extent of the poverty of "our" western culture being realised and the loss that has been sustained by those who have been forced to leave their culture of birth or done so by choice.
And it is not just the people in other countries; there are many people in Australia for whom the Church has been the source of belittlement and alienation. Traditionally the role of women has been one of subservience - but that is only one of many groups of people for whom the Church has not been enriching.
And I have sometimes had cause to wonder if some think those "less fortunate" than themselves ascribe those others in "less fortunate" circumstances to a lack of faith on these others behalf - as an excuse to keep their "more fortunate" circumstances all to themselves.
As my computer read these lessons to me, I was struck how frequently these words were associated with the mode of life we lead. So the Israelites in the wilderness hankered after the lifestyle they had left behind: "If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots and ate our fill of bread" they complained to Moses. (Exodus 16:2)
And in the gospel reading, Jesus tells us we need to "work ... for the food that endures ..." The bread from heaven doesn't just fall from heaven, we have to work for it.
"Aha!", some might say, but the manna did fall from heaven on the Israelites! Well, in a sense this is true, but I point out that the bread from heaven didn't fall on the Israelites while they were in Egypt. It was only as they had begun the journey God was leading them on, that provision were made. And the journey they were making was not some idle or random itinerary to suit God's purpose, the nature of which was hidden from the travellers - the journey was precisely for the benefit of those who travelled, to bring them from slavery to freedom.
Now, however we may choose to conceive of what happens at the consecration of the Holy Eucharist, be it transubstantiation, consubstantiation, receptionism, real presence or real absence :-) the words about believing in Jesus, "in him whom he has sent" cannot be about Jesus excluding from blessing those who do not believe in the right metaphysical terms.
Jesus says in our reading for today the words: "the bread of God ... comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." (John 6:33). It is not just for us who believe. It is not just for us who believe in a particular form of metaphysical system, the presuppositions of which inevitably demand assent to a particular doctrine of consecration. The bread is meant for the world.
Just as I say at nearly each and every funeral, we cannot portray Jesus as the heavenly "bouncer", keeping people away from God - people who don't measure up, those who don't believe in our terms, people who don't have faith, or don't have enough of the "right" faith. Jesus has always been on about accepting "ordinary" people (if any individual can ever really be described as "ordinary"). Each and every element of our faith must reflect this truth also. Our faith is a faith that admits people, all people.
So to say (for instance) that we must believe in a particular explanation of what happens at the consecration of the Holy Eucharist, is to say implicitly or explicitly, that to not do so is to deny ourselves right of entry into the presence of God. So the doctrine becomes a yardstick to allow some in and to keep others out. We have travelled a long way from the ministry of Jesus who spent his life associating with those considered "out" by the religious establishment. Of course there are many other doctrinal positions which the same sorts of judgements can be (wrongly) made. Any doctrinal position can be used to exclude the other. Every "Christian" doctrine serves to include others.
The bread, which is Jesus' flesh, is not just for us, it is for the world.
The bread, which is Jesus' flesh, is sustenance for the journey, it is freedom from the oppression of religious demarcation disputation, and it is for everybody.
Our belief in Jesus is precisely this, that God acts for us and for all, to feed and sustain each and everyone of us on our journey from slavery to freedom, fully mature and fully ourselves.
That is the journey that we are on, and the Blessed Sacrament is both the sustenance for the journey and the promise.
The journey we are on is also not an arbitrary one to suit some arcane whim of the Almighty - the journey we are on is also from slavery to freedom - it is we and all people who are the ultimate beneficiaries of this overflowing grace of God.
The crowd, still anxiously following Jesus after they had been fed by the five barley loaves and two fish, are in the end insatiable, because they are only concerned for their own comfort and well-being. They say to Jesus: "Sir, give us this bread always." (John 6:34). They had indeed seen and eaten the bread, but failed to perceive that the miracle occurred as Jesus gave someone else's food away to those who needed it.
They had seen yet failed to perceive, they were talking to the bread, it was all there before them, they too needed only to share it with others to know the miracle of the feeding of the multitude. They themselves could perform the same feats, as they forgot themselves and admitted that others were as entitled to the love and grace of God as they were.
The Church's role in ministry is therefore never to belittle or alienate others - to keep others hungry and thirsty. The Church's role in ministry is to share the living bread with them - the acceptance of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, with one and with all. It is in this way that all people will be fed and grow, in the way that God would have them do.
The journey is from slavery to freedom, from slavery to a particular doctrine or form of Church government, to the freedom of the realisation that God loves and cares for all people - not just those who call themselves "Christians" and that everyone has a contribution to make to our existence.
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