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

s131g15   Sunday 19   9/8/2015   St Luke’s in the City

‘the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh’  John 6:51

How comfortable these words seem!   Here we are gathered, receiving the Holy Communion, being given life in these sacred elements.   They are so reassuring that we begin the gospel next week repeating these same words.

But for me these are uncompromising and uncomfortable words.   If we are to follow Jesus, we too are to not seek our own welfare but the wellbeing of the whole of society.   Again, the church corporate ever wants individuals to take this personally, when surely the words demand that the church as a corporate body take this on as an organisation.   If the organisation claims a monopoly on spirituality and salvation, no less fiercely and selfishly as corporations in the business world hold on to their monopolies, how is the church any different?   I have more than once commented on the fact that another name for the ‘Mafia’ is the ‘Family’.  (1)

Of course the church corporate is going to laud martyrs for the faith; they save the church from organisationally following the gospel.

I wonder what the world might look like if the church as a corporate body was turned inside out and existed for the life of all - how transformative this would be.   If the church took the initiative and divested herself of her monopoly on spirituality and faith, would not this encourage some others who hold on to their monopolies just as fiercely, to let go?

The bread that we are given is not given to us personally to comfort and sustain us, it is given for the life of the world.  

A long time ago, I remember a senior member of the clergy ‘across the ditch’ speaking about tolerance and multiculturalism, when these were the catch-phrases in the then society.   He said that the gospel is not tolerance.   Nobody at all wants to be tolerated; we would justifiably be told where we can stick our ‘tolerance’.  I suppose being tolerated is better than being killed or abused, but only marginally.  In modern times congregations have had the obligatory morning tea after the service of Holy Communion in an effort to be friendly.   But being friendly is not the gospel either.   For me, these sidestep the question - is the Holy Communion just for us - the straight, baptised, confirmed, communicant and contributing Anglican of ‘my’ or ‘our’ variety - or is it for the life of the world?   Do others have to assimilate into our culture before they are acceptable?   I rejoice at those churches who describe themselves as affirming and inclusive, but even this seems to relieve the church of the necessity to take the initiative.

When will we as church freely offer the bread which we have been given to the world, that the world might really live?   I think of these words of Jesus: ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.   But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.   And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’ (2)  How can we invite others freely to our eucharist when they actually aren’t allowed to eat?

One of the lovely prayers in our prayer book is: “Realising that we are all nourished from the same source of life, may we so live that others be not deprived of air, food, water, shelter, or the chance to live.”   I always add ‘dignity’ to this list.  (3)    Why is it that the most distinctive act we do as practicing christians is perceived by the world as inherently excluding them?   Does not our ‘holy communion’ implicitly deny dignity to others?

I am grateful to receive Richard Rohr’s daily meditation via e-mail and the one on the 27th of July 2015 began with these words by Carol Lee Flinders: "One cannot break attachments by force, Teresa discovered; they are the expression of an inner hunger.   When that hunger is assuaged, attachments will fall away with almost no effort on our part."   This reminded me of those words of Oscar Wilde who said: ‘The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it... I can resist everything but temptation.’  (4)

I have been speaking about the energy we get from our relationships with others and how that this, on the corporate level, translates into the church being enlivened by her incarnation into the world.   So if we take Carol Lee Flinders words to apply to this, it is our incarnation into the world that will assuage our hunger as church, and our attachments to things which are less than enlivening will fall away.

Sitting down and eating with another is about the most intimate way of having a relationship with another without actual physical intimacy.   It denotes a relationship of complete acceptance, an openness to the other, a situation of respect, equality and mutuality.   And it is this acceptance, openness, respect, equality and mutuality which gives life to others, as well as to ourselves.   It denotes a relationship of a completely different quality than tolerance, friendliness or even affirmation and inclusion.

One of the key questions that the pseudo-orthodox ask the disciples is: "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (5)  So the parallel question to us is ‘why do we who claim to follow Jesus only be seen eating with straight, baptised, confirmed, communicant and contributing Anglicans of ‘my’ or ‘our’ variety?’

It is acceptance, openness, respect, equality and mutuality that is the gospel and therefore is not something that happens overnight, but something which takes time and effort, a holding loosely to one’s own beliefs and rightness and a willingness to find truth and rightness in the beliefs others hold.   It is only when that acceptance, openness, respect, equality and mutuality towards all that is the gospel is enacted and embodied in our celebration of Holy Communion that we can start claiming to be church, that we can start to claim to be christians, that we can start to claim that we believe that the bread and wine that we take today are the very body and blood of Christ.

If the sort of sanctified selfishness I described earlier is to have a biblical word to contrast it, then I would plump for ‘righteousness’.

So to quote some well known sayings of Jesus, somewhat adapted; again: ‘Blessèd is the church who is poor in spirit, for hers is the kingdom of heaven.   ‘Blessèd is the church who mourns the destruction of her beautiful buildings, for she will be comforted - by people.   ‘Blessèd is the church who is meek, she will inherit the earth.   ‘Blessèd is the church who hungers and thirsts for something other than sanctified selfishness, for she will be filled.   ‘Blessèd is the church who is merciful, for she will receive mercy.   ‘Blessèd is the church who is pure in heart, for she will see God.   ‘Blessèd is the church who is peacemaking; she will be called children of God - by others!   ‘Blessèd is the church who is persecuted because she seeks something other than sanctified selfishness, for hers is the kingdom of heaven.  ‘Blessèd is the church when the pseudo-orthodox revile and persecute her and utter all kinds of evil against her falsely when she is this poor.   Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way the pseudo-orthodox persecuted the prophets who were before you.  (6)  

Sadly, often, the reviling the church receives from good people in the world is because she is perceived as not following her Lord, sitting down and eating with all sorts of people, rather than that she is.

2.  Luke 14:12-14
3.  A New Zealand Prayer Book. p163
5.  Matthew 9:11 // Mark 2:16 and Luke 7:39
6.  Matthew 5:3-11