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

s133g15  Sunday 21  23/8/2015  Halswell

‘.. to whom can we go?’   John 6:68

We have been reading from John chapter 6 since the 26th of July (1) and next week (2) we return to the reading of Mark’s gospel which we usually do in Year B.  It began, four weeks ago with us reading John 6, the feeding of the multitude, and subsequent Sundays have all been about Jesus being the bread of life.  Today would end our reading of chapter 6 except that it actually misses the two final verses: ‘Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve?   Yet one of you is a devil.’  He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.’  (3)   It is surely not insignificant that the contrasting reactions to the feeding of the multitude and the proclamation of Jesus being the bread of life: the pseudo-orthodox who disputed (4), the complaining disciples who left the retinue, the twelve who stayed, also include two references to Judas who betrayed him, turning the ’12’ into the ’11'. (5)

The feeding of the multitude clearly provoked strong reactions and not at all positive.   If the feeding of the multitude was demonstratively a free meal ticket for life for one and all - then the disputation and distain, the complaining and abandonment and finally the betrayal seem inexplicable.

If the feeding of the multitude was a free meal ticket for only a select few - the eleven - those who are straight, baptised, confirmed, communicant, contributing Anglicans of ‘my’ or ‘our’ particular variety, how is this Jesus any different from the multitude of other messiahs and gurus that abound?   For all we might be able to commend the virtues of being straight, baptised, confirmed, communicant and contributing Anglicans of a particular variety, there are clearly a multitude of others, all of them equally devout and equally convinced that their’s is the right way, the one ordained by the Almighty.

If nothing else, we must see that the world is right to question the eternal veracity of these competing claims, for if the outcome of belief is to divide the world into competing ideologies, then the world is right to question the value of religion and God - as it is indeed doing!   If god initiates, perpetuates and revels in intractable and eternal division, so that some we label ‘extremists’ hurt and kill others, why would any sane human being worship such a god?   If the only way we can live without fearing for our very lives in God’s world is to isolate ourselves into ghettoes of like-minded individuals, what hope do we have to offer those outside - except to come and join us in the hope that we, alone, will prevail?

The reaction of ordinary people to a gospel of division is entirely justified - for when in the last 2000 years has there been any instance of division diminished or overcome?   Yes, I rejoice in the examples of the Church of South India, the United Church of Christ in the USA and the Uniting Church in Australia, yet such local initiatives have been hard won - and perhaps these isolated exceptions prove the rule.

I am in conversation with someone who (entirely justifiably) cannot believe in an interventionist deity.   I am sure he will not mind me quoting his own words: ‘I do not believe in a theistic God who lives somewhere out there above the bright blue sky and pokes his finger in from time to time as he pleases.’   We in the church need to realise that we live in a world where people question, and as such they are exercising their human potential to the fullest.   If belief in a deity implicitly demands compliance rather than exploration why would anyone believe?   If belief in a deity demands sacrifice rather than encouraging curiosity - I personally wouldn’t bother!

I point out that those who disputed and treated Jesus with distain were the pseudo-orthodox, those who complained and abandoned Jesus were disciples, as was Judas who betrayed him.   The common factor was that all these were those who were in what they considered was an inner sanctum.   Their disputation, complaining and betrayal only becomes explicable when we see that they opposed God’s free meal ticket for life for one and for all.   Their positions in God’s inner sanctum were rendered entirely irrelevant.   Everything they had lived for was for naught!   No wonder they were scandalised, no wonder they had Jesus killed!

It is interesting, someone who heard me preach one of my sermons recently, commented not at all unkindly: ‘Another challenging sermon!’   I am happy to be seen to challenge the church, provided it is recognised that it stems from love for all people and an encouragement for all to exercise their human potential to the fullest - by thinking rather than by complying.

For me, it is precisely because Jesus values curiosity over compliance that marks him as unique and ‘of God’ for it means that he reaches out to all people, of all races and cultures and genders and choice of intimate partner, with the blessing of acceptance and encouragement to be human .. and humane. 

For me it is the blessing of curiosity that makes Jesus’ message timeless.   The ‘god’ who blesses compliance sanctifies 1st century biblical ‘christianity’ or 16th century reformation ‘christianity’ or 17th century puritan ‘christianity’.   On August 15th when he re-opened the US embassy in Cuba  Secretary of State, John Kerry praised President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro for what he called “a courageous decision to stop being prisoners of history and to focus on the opportunities of today and tomorrow.”  (6)   Is our ‘christianity’ keeping us ‘prisoners of history’ and if it is why would we worship; why would the world worship?

So to return to the question that is my text for today: ‘to whom can we go?’   Who else offers the world incarnation rather than judgement?   Peace rather than continuing division?   All we have to do is to grasp the truth of this and make it a reality.   And this has to be seen to be a corporate core value, otherwise our efforts as individuals will be entirely in vain.

1.  Sunday 17
2.  Sunday 22
3.  6:70-71
4.  6:52
5.  6:64,71