The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s130g15  Sunday 18  2/8/2015

‘believe in him whom he has sent’  John 6:29

It is easy to read these words and immediately assume that Jesus is speaking about himself.   In convoluted language he identifies himself with the bread of life - and the seeds of exclusivism are sown.   Belief in Jesus and frequent reception of the Holy Communion mark us off as Christians.

But I spoke last week of the energy of our politician and the source of that energy, the constant diversity of people with whom she interacts.   And I make the point that this is precisely what Jesus did.   He interacted with all sorts of people, sitting down and eating with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners - as well as the devout and the orthodox.   This is what we mean when we speak of incarnation.

Instead of being marked off as Christians, we are the opposite, we follow Jesus and be incarnated into the world, so that there are no differences between us and them - indeed there is no us and them.

The trouble with Jesus is that he kept moving.   It is almost as if he is always running away from personal adulation.   He is always running away, towards other people, and if we are to follow Jesus, we have to keep up!   He keeps running away from adulation, because ‘christians’ can use the praise of God as an avoidance mechanism for being incarnated into the world, just as easily as any other religion and faith.

Jesus is indeed sent, but not just to us!

And Jesus is incarnated into the world so that we are incarnated into the world, not separate from it.   And it is here that belief is so important; not that Jesus is a friend of mine, but that Jesus is a friend of all.

So I struggle with the sentiment expressed by G. K. Chesterton who said: 'The .. church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age' (1)

The church doesn’t need renewal, it needs to be turned inside out!   I find it fascinating to read that the Merriam Webster Dictionary tells me that the first known use of ‘inside out’ was circa 1600  (2)   I suppose that Jesus’ use of the term ‘born again’ is the closest he had to ‘inside out’.   ‘Sent’ also denotes a journey away from what is familiar, into unchartered territory.

We are being turned inside out as a church.   Instead of being self-absorbed like a young baby, we mature into individuals who contribute to the world around us.   The worth of a church is defined not by how comfortable the congregation is or how well defined they are, but how useful they are to the society around them.

A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of visiting family ‘across the ditch’ (in Australia) and I reflected on the journey on the different environments we found ourselves in.   The ordinary world of friends and relatives farewelling or meeting us, then the other side of the security barrier where duty-free goodies abound in an anonymous environment.   Then we entered the pressurised cabin of the aircraft; pressurised in terms of air, but also pressurised because of the proximity of total strangers.   After take-off, we rose above the clouds and storms of the world below into bright sunshine looking down at the cotton-wool of clouds.   And all of these have an element of unreality to them, but as adults we adapt to these various worlds by being incarnated.

Recently my attention was brought to an article in the ‘Guardian’ by Paul Mason entitled ‘the end of capitalism’.  (3)   I would not want to claim that I understand the whole article, because I am neither an economist or historian, yet he argues the communications revolution and the abundance of sharing of free knowledge spells the end of the dominance of capitalism.

It seems to me to be the age of creativity and spirituality which complements capital and labour and promises a new and more egalitarian society.   Traditionally the church has operated on the paradigm of holding on to their monopoly of things spiritual, in precisely the same way as other ‘worldly’ organisations have held on to their particular monopolies, and no less selfishly.   However with the democratisation of freely available information, knowledge and creativity, things which actually make life richer, there seems an inevitability that something significant is happening, indeed has been happening in this generation of baby-boomers.  

The lyrics of the 1967 hit for the musical ‘Hair’: "The Age of Aquarius" by the 5th Dimension, were based on the .. belief that the world would soon be entering the "Age of Aquarius", an age of love, light, and humanity. (4)  Again, in the words of Simon & Garfunkel, ‘The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls / And tenement halls.’  (5)   Perhaps it is happening all about us, and the question to the church is do we embrace or revile this?

It seems to me to be quite trinitarian; capital, the artisan and creativity, and it is creativity and spirituality which binds them together.   Pseudo-orthodoxy of course keeps them separate, and fighting with one another for precedence.  

We believe in a saviour who was sent, and sends us, to bridge the gaps between people, between ideologies.   But it is more than bridging gaps, for in bringing people together our Lord instigates and nurtures creativity and spirituality, that bread of life which sustains and quenches all thirst.

4.  James Rado & Gerome Ragni (lyrics), and Galt MacDermot (music)