The readings on which this sermon is
based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r131.htm
s131g12 Sunday 19 12/8/2012
'I am the bread of life' John 6.35
Recently at worship I joined in singing what used to be one of my
favourite hymns: 'Guide me O thou great Redeemer'. Both
the words and the tune 'Cwm Rhondda' are stirring. The
first verse says: 'Guide me, O Thou great Redeemer / Pilgrim through
this barren land. / I am weak, but Thou art mighty; / Hold me with
Thy powerful hand. / Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven, / Feed me now
and evermore; / Feed me and evermore.' As the last of
three sons, I personally have always identified with someone who
felt themselves weak!
But the words also betray a perception that 'christianity' is a
oppressed minority within a hostile secular environment, and
individual 'christians' and the church need God's consistent feeding
and strengthening to maintain her integrity and distance from the
evils of the world. To take another example, the Bishop
used to say to those intended to be ordained priest: 'We exhort you,
in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you .. be messengers,
watchmen, and stewards of the Lord; to teach and to premonish, to
feed and provide for the Lord's family; to seek for Christ's sheep
that are dispersed abroad, and for his children who are in the midst
of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ for
I have been thinking about selfishness. Traditionally
the Church has been unwilling to share this existence with others on
equal terms. You could, and can, take your pick on the
particular criterion which determines acceptability.
Male, Caucasian, straight, wealthy, employed or employer in a
‘suitable’ occupation, believer, devout, who calls God by the
correct name, believes in a particular set of theological doctrines,
doesn’t use contraceptives, who is intimate with only one person of
whom we approve, and only when we approve, someone who tithes, who
reads the bible, believes in interpreting the bible literally,
doesn’t believe in evolution, attends church, isn’t naughty .. the
list is endless! And yet Jesus came and associated with
others, the tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners, he shared this
existence with all others on equal terms. And this is
why the devout and the orthodox had him killed.
Recently I read a reference to an article Tim Stanley wrote in ‘The
Telegraph’: 'Ministers now (have) to convince the public that church
attendance is in their personal interest. And conservatives are
better at doing this than liberals because the product they are
selling makes a stronger claim for its value to the
individual. Think of faith as operating within a highly
competitive marketplace of ideas. Faith is no longer a product that
people presume they need and are looking to buy (soap or shoes).
Instead it has become a luxury item, or something that they have to
be convinced that they might want (a sports car or a puppy). What
kind of luxury is more likely to sell? Liberal Christianity is
wracked with doubt, ducks strong conclusions and often seems to
apologise for its own existence. Its liturgy is a confusing blend of
styles and belief systems .. What do these people believe, and how
is it relevant to me? By contrast, the conservative
Christian product is a zinger. It screams loudly that it is the only
way to Heaven, its Protestant services tend to be packed and
charismatic, and its theology is straight-forward and
uncompromising. In case you think all this business talk is crass,
take a look at the way that evangelicalism skillfully pitches itself
as a lifestyle. It has become a multi-million dollar industry that
offers advice on everything from parenting to drug rehabilitation.
Tithing is pushed by some preachers as if it was a pyramid scheme –
"You gotta give to receive." This is why conservative congregations
grow while liberal ones dwindle. It pays to advertise.'
All this is predicated on the assumption that faith is about
'personal interest' and 'value to the individual'. So it is
actually about selfishness, and selfishness is not of God, no matter
which name you might use for the divine. And a world
predicated on selfishness, whether material or spiritual, offers the
world nothing that is any different. It is only when we
renounce sacred selfishness – evil – that we have anything to offer
the world at large.
So, yes, ‘liberal christianity’ has nothing particular or immediate
to offer the individual seeker. It is no recipe for
personal wealth, health or happiness. But neither does
conservative christianity! Some of the most angst-ridden
persons I have met are conservative ‘christians’. One
has only to consider the angst amongst some Anglican bishops over
the ordination of women and gay and lesbian persons.
Conservative ‘christianity’, not unsurprisingly, thrives among the
poor because it is presented as a way out of their poverty, and
would that this were true! No!, the only real hope
for society is when we share this existence with all others on equal
terms. It is only this that may bring about a lessening
of war and isolation, and the poverty, sickness and sadness that
result. And it can only happen when we, like Jesus, do
it. It won’t come about by talking about it, or thinking
it’s a good idea.
So often we hear environmentalists rightly challenging society to
consider the sort of ecology we will be bequeathing to our children
and grandchildren. I wonder why we don’t consider trying
to bequeath a society where all are invited to share in this
existence on equal terms? Surely this would be the best
thing we could do!
Jesus claims to be the bread of life. Bread is for
eating, paths are for walking along, gates are there to be
opened. None of these have much status attached to
them. And the bread of life speaks to me not of my
individual morsel but the stuff of which the life that we all share
is composed. It is that which brings growth, strength
and healing - and therefore is hardly restricted to the Holy
Communion. Everything that brings growth, strength and
healing is of Jesus. Some people find a source of nurture in
nature or art, music, reading, knitting, fixing cars, surfing,
meditating, yoga, Tai Chi .. again the list is endless.
Scientists find wonder in observing the universe through microscope
and telescope. Others find meaning in helping to build a
supportive and sustainable community, loving families, a healthy
environment, a willingness to be interdependent, a willingness to
share this existence with all others on equal terms.
This is what will make for a life that we would want to be eternal,
not for ourselves alone, but for all future generations.
And we do our bit by following this Jesus, who was incarnated into
society, who associated with all, including the tax collectors,
prostitutes and sinners of his day.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"