The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s133g09 Sunday 21 23/8/2009
'Lord, to whom can we go?' John 6.68
Some years ago, I (briefly) joined the local branch of a political party. It is not that I had or have any political ambitions at all. It was simply that I had some time and I thought it was worth while finding out a bit about how our political system worked, from the 'inside'. I found it remarkably similar to attending church there was a constant lament that the members were getting old and somehow they had to attract new members, who had to subscribe completely to the political ideology of the elite, and their chief concern was supporting the next fund-raising event. (It was a film morning as I recall.) The other thing that became obvious was the lament that the branch thought that the state hierarchy were not listening to them. Any thought that I could make a significant contribution to that organization was quickly dispelled. I am not at all sure that I will ever make a significant contribution to the organization of the church and I've been in the church for so much longer :-)!
I mentioned last week about the wonderful miracle of the feeding of the multitude that began chapter 6 of John's gospel and the antagonism this provoked in Jesus' opposition as well as a number of disciples ceasing to follow Jesus. This is the subject of today's gospel and inspires Peter's exasperation as he looked around to find what might be life-giving and can only find Jesus.
If we look at the feeding of the multitude with 'rose-coloured' glasses that it is a wonderful sign of Jesus' divinity, I suspect that we haven't actually realised the significance of it. Clearly some of the disciples realised that the miracle had profound implications into how they lived their life and could not see these in themselves. Jesus' opposition too found the miracle too confronting for their form of religion.
We look to Jesus as the source of our life. We find ourselves forgiven, encouraged, fed, supported, healed and guided by this Jesus. And it is wonderful that this is so. But ..
The catch is that of course it doesn't end there. We are called to allow that Jesus forgives, encourages, feeds, supports, heals and guides others. We have been freed from living up to what we have understood to be God's expectations and we have to allow others to be freed from what we might understand to be God's expectations too.
It is not that the message has changed the same message of forgiveness, encouragement, feeding, supporting, healing and guiding is the same for all, irrespective of who they are.
This weekend some are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock festival. I wasn't there. While I was a baby boomer, I was just finishing my high school years. I didn't have the wherewithal to get myself to the USA and I really wasn't in the know of such things. But it was a defining moment last century. Some further shackles were dispensed with, and it marked a watershed in western civilisation. Being a popular movement it didn't result in a set political agenda its influence was on the hearts and minds of people. I've just listened to a radio program where the atmosphere of hope at Woodstock and at the inauguration of Barack Obama was compared. But it was not just Woodstock it was the advent of reliable forms of contraception, the feminist movement and the radicalism which the Vietnam war engendered. And lying behind these things was the fact of the communications revolution. Vietnam was the first televised war and the ease of communications meant that we knew about the war and the protests, we knew about contraception, we knew about the feminist movement, we knew about Woodstock. In times past these would have remained obscure. And the internet has furthered that communications revolution.
In the olden days the parish minister was the centre of learning the clerk in Holy Orders as we were once titled. It was he (as he always was a 'he') who schooled the bright youths, witnessed documents, anything that involved being a little literate. Through his learning he expounded scripture so he brought something of the outside world to the village which was otherwise entirely insular.
The communication revolution means that the outside world reaches into each and every home via the computer. This inspires and enables an increase in general literacy and a realisation to the multitude of doctrines and opinions that have been around for ever. It is only now that we realise the reality of diversity. We find there is diversity in Christianity, as well as diversity in every other faith and religion. The 'one true faith' actually never was 'one'. It was those who wanted our adherence to **their** version who pretended it was so.
And it is the recognition of diversity that is life giving for it validates our own perceptions. Even though they be in embryonic form we are as entitled to them as everyone else. And of course they will change, for as we meet others, both in reality and in the virtual world, our perceptions will change.
To whom can we go? In Jesus we reach out to others to appreciate their perceptions in hope. This is where new life will be found. As I implied earlier, our reading of scripture brings us into contact with the perceptions of the ancients, and provided we do not slavishly follow any such interaction, these broaden our outlook.
We look to those things that bring us freedom and life and we look away from those things that demand our compliance. We look to those things that bring freedom to all people, and we turn away from those things that demand compliance of anyone else. Our present existence means that we are aware of the multitude of perceptions around us. Fundamental to our faith is the fact that human beings are important, not the details of our beliefs. It is remarkable how widespread this fundamental faith in the importance of humanity rather than belief is how widespread this is held by people outside the church and how this is denied by some church people.
Jesus' words about eating his flesh and drinking his blood are an invitation to communion, of course with Jesus, but more importantly with the tax collectors and sinners with whom he associated. So the partaking of communion is an invitation to communion, into incarnation with others about us. Baptism is not into an exclusive society apart from the rest of humanity, but baptism into all of humanity. Similarly communion is not a privilege of an exclusive subset of humanity but something that unites us to all of humanity or it would if we realised what it is really all about.
To whom can we go? We find life in our birth into the real world, and we continue to find life as we continue to be incarnated into the real world. Death, eternal death, only awaits us as we separate ourselves off from others, because in doing so we separate ourselves off from the God who loves all.
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