The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s132g09 Sunday 20 16/8/2009
'whoever eats of this bread will live forever' John 6.51
I'm not actually all that sure that I want to live forever! As someone who ministers among lots of people, some very old, I see increasing infirmity on a regular basis. I too feel the effects of advancing age in my own body I would want some assurance that some rather brighter future is there rather than eternal and irreversible degeneration.
But some people live this life forever wanting something better. They seem forever dissatisfied. Certainly this world is no utopia and there are plenty of reasons to be unhappy. Tragedies happen all the time. But to live, say, 70 years dissatisfied is a sad existence indeed; why would one want this to never end?
In times past, with lack of sanitation and high incidence of infant mortality, life expectancy was far lower. Nowadays it is not unusual for 80 and 90 year olds to have operations that would never have been attempted in times past, even if they existed. Sadly great age does not always bring self awareness. I speak to a number of elderly people who think that they will be able to be discharged from hospital into their own home where they will be able to continue to look after themselves without any help.
What is life if it is not with other people?
St Paul says: 'If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!' 2 Corinthians 5.17 This is another passage which is so frequently interpreted personally, i.e. if I am in Christ I am a new creation; I have become new. But it is not me that has become new, it is the creation that is around me that has changed. The only change to me personally is that now I have eyes to see the reality. Only recently someone spoke to me about being 'born again'. I did not respond, but I suspect by this persons' estimation I would not be a 'christian' at all.
One has only to think of the old divisions between people, the old hierarchy of power. Nowadays we begin to see, and to make our own, the beginnings of a multicultural and multi-faith world where all people have their place and their importance. This is a world in which I would be prepared to live for ever, not the old and stale one!
So perhaps if all of humanity were to eat of this bread, then the promise becomes that humanity will abide. It will be indeed renewed constantly and individuals, as we come and go, will contribute to this renewal. This seems to be both a more reasonable promise and indeed a more palatable one. For the obverse is certainly true, that if we continue our bickering, humanity is indeed likely to fulfil that Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine that was touted in the 50's. The author of the Wikipedia article states: 'Although the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction certainly continues to be in force.' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutual_assured_destruction#Official_policy
The divisions between people that we take for granted don't make this existence an easy place for ourselves or for anyone else to live. To proclaim the salvation of 'chrisians' alone is just another a remnant of the law of the jungle and the survival of the fittest, but surely we have been created for something better! I have said it before that the proclamation of eternal damnation on others is a no different form of terrorism than suicide bombers. I recall the words of St Paul: 'If I give my body to be burned .. but have not love .. I am nothing at all.' (1 Cor 13)
I find it interesting that the sixth chapter of John that begins with the story of the feeding of the multitude and follows on with the theme of Jesus being the bread of life, results in complaints by the authorities and doubts on behalf of Jesus' followers. What is obviously a good news story, something testified by each of the four evangelists, an event that has resounded down the centuries - inspires antagonism and resulted in many of Jesus' disciples turning back and no longer going about with Jesus. Something more is going on here than immediately meets the eye.
There is no status or glory in being the 'bread of life'. The bread of life is only eaten or it is rejected, left and goes stale. It is the same as many of the 'I am' sayings. 'I am the way' the way is only trodden on. 'I am the gate' - the only useful thing a gate does is get out of the way when pushed.
So the invitation to eat the bread of eternal life is an invitation to self-sacrifice as the basis of our faith. It is an invitation to see other people's perceptions as more important that the orthodoxy of our belief. There is a vast difference between believing in a God who condemns those who don't believe and believing in a God who loves people whatever they believe.
If there is any person who has lived forever, on the most sceptical basis, it is Jesus who lives in the hearts of a multitude of people, some who call themselves 'christians' but many others who have understandable issues with the church. The ideal of living and dying for others that Jesus epitomised is something that continues to endear him to countless people and to inspire many to attempt to imitate, again by many people who never have and never will 'darken the doors of a church'. The concept that salvation is something that extends to 'christians' alone is the chief example of people NOT living according to precepts of Jesus, of living for others.
For the High Church Anglican, if the Holy Communion is not transubstantiated by our consumption into us acting selflessly like Jesus towards others, that sacrificial meal, however real, is ultimately wasted. For the Evangelical Anglican, if we gaze on the cross of Jesus on Good Friday and not open our hearts to those of other faiths and of no faith, to the poor, the marginalised (like women) and the alienated (like gay persons), WE make that pain, suffering and death for naught! However we perceive of the Christian life, it doesn't matter our devotion, orthodoxy or whatever, we cannot call ourselves 'christians' without this openness to other people.
The risen Jesus has no body but ours to work with, but, rest assured, the 'ours' I speak of is not restricted to members of particular congregations, those who have had a particular conversion experience, or those who 'know' Jesus Father and Mother and can name his brothers and sisters! The risen Jesus lives in all who live life for others and as such they live in him and participate in that promised eternal life.
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