Monthly Archives: August 2015

John 6:51-58 – Holy Communion

 

In the Gospel readings over the past two weeks we have heard Jesus say these words: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” And over the Summer period the lectionary asks us to spend time in John 6. Sunday’s Gospel readings seem to have become repetitive – almost too repetitive. Why do we spend so much time focussing on this one chapter of John’s Gospel?

John’s Gospel does not have the story of the Last Supper and the institution of Holy Communion. Where the other Gospels focus on that story, John chooses to highlight Jesus washing his disciples feet. It is here, in John 6, a passage that commences with the feeding of the 5000 that John chooses to reflect on the importance of the Communion meal of bread and wine to his first readers.

We reflected in my post: “God loves and calls us all” ( http://wp.me/p45mBO-mw) that as physical beings we need food and drink to survive. John wants us to understand that our participation in Holy Communion is just as important to our survival as spiritual beings.

All of us, although we might not want to admit it, are really quite fragile. We all have needs and longings at the core of our being which need to be fulfilled. So many of us feel driven to try to fulfil these longings for significance, for meaning in our lives. It’s part of the human condition! We long for our deepest needs to be met and we search for ways to make this happen! These needs are spiritual – but in the end they are also physical. For when these needs are not met our physical well-being is compromised. We encounter and suffer from depression, or the stress we feel opens up the possibility of heart attack, or arthritis. The physical and the spiritual cannot be separated.

Jesus says to us all: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. … Whoever feeds on this bread will live for ever.” Or to put it more succinctly, “I am all you will ever need.”

 

John is so concerned that we grasp this message that he places Jesus cryptic words about Holy Communion alongside the story of Jesus meeting the physical needs of the crowd in feeding the 5,000. John is saying to us: “See, just as Jesus met physical needs he can meet spiritual needs as well.” God is interested in everything that makes up who we are, there is no distinction between physical and spiritual. In God’s eyes it is all one.

And John wants us to grasp that participating in a meal together is deeply significant for our spiritual and physical well-being. When we eat together, we do so much more that satisfy physical hunger and thirst. Eating together speaks volumes about our relationships. When we share a meal together we say very clearly to those we are with: “You are worth sacrificing time for.” When we invite friends round for a meal we really are valuing them. So often it is sharing a meal together that cements friendships and relationships – whether it be the marriage breakfast, or the business lunch, or any other kind of meal. Eating together either creates or cements those bonds of commitment.

So, when we share Holy Communion together we cement our relationship with God and our relationships with each other. We enact, in a way that physically affects us, the drama of Jesus’ death. We take into ourselves again the signs of that passion. We receive again the physical signs of God’s love for us and as we do so we are renewed and we’re strengthened for all that life can bring our way.

Jesus says: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

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The Transfiguration – Glimpses of Glory – August 6th 2015

2 Peter 1:16-19 and Luke 9.28-36

Glimpses of Glory – Back in the 1980s I used to do a lot of walking in the Lake District. One of my favourite places is Lake Buttermere – I love sitting on the ground at the end of the lake closest to Buttermere village on a still summer evening. It’s a place I identify with a key moment in my life.

I was sitting there one summer day in the 1980s. The lake was completely still and the towering masses of Robinson, Fleetwith Pike and Chapel Crag were reflected perfectly in its blue waters. It was a day to die for! It was in the middle of this beauty that for the first time I felt that God loved me. I had known for years that he did, but this was different. My heart was strangely warmed and I felt what I believed to be true.

This was for me a “Glimpse of Glory.” A moment when something changed for ever. You may well have had a similar experience – perhaps looking at the face of your first child or grandchild, perhaps listening to an evocative speaker, perhaps sitting with a dying friend or relative as they finally meet their Lord. Perhaps even the first time that we came to believe in Jesus. Moments which change our lives. Times when we gained a new perspective on our lives. Moments when something seemed to fall into place. Defining moments in our lives. “Glimpses of Glory.”

For Peter, James and John the Transfiguration of Jesus was one such moment, a moment when the curtains of heaven were drawn aside and they saw Jesus as he really was, as the Son of God in all his glory. This was their “Glimpse of Glory” and as Peter reminisces in his letter – it clearly changed their lives.

But moments like these are elusive. We can’t manufacture them, we can’t make them happen. Whatever you call them, “Glimpses of Glory”, “Mountain top experiences.” We want them to last for ever, but they don’t. “Mountain top” experiences cannot last. They slip from our fingers. Just as suddenly as we have encountered them, they’re gone. They become part of the past – sometime just good memories to reflect on.

Peter’s first response is to speak almost without thinking, “This is a moment to die for,” he says. “It must be captured. We must build churches or shrines.” Peter wants to cling on to the experience, to make it concrete, physical.

We read his later response in his letter: “we were eye witnesses to his majesty,” he says. But what mattered to us was the voice of God speaking to us in the experience. “And what we need to do,” says Peter, “is to allow the experience to be the first fruits, the deposit, the guarantee of the truth which has yet to be revealed.” Here are his exact words ….. “Be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Peter knew that his “Glimpse of Glory” was more than just a positive experience, it was a glimpse of the way things really are, Jesus as King and Lord in Glory. Peter knew that just for a moment he had seen things from God’s perspective. That rather than building a shrine to the experience, he needed to allow the truth of the experience govern the way he lived, until God’s reign in Jesus was obvious for all to see.

So Peter says to us today. “Those moments in your lives, where the veil of heaven seems to have been drawn aside and you have felt God’s touch, or been overwhelmed by joy, where you have encountered truth not just as ideas but as living reality (like I did at Buttermere), where you have been deeply affected by the faith of a relative or friend . Allow those moments to be for you, lamps in the darkness, the precursors of the dawn. For they are moments when you have seen with God’s eyes; moments when you have seen the way things really are, and the way they will be. Don’t create physical shrines, but take from them the courage to believe until the day dawns and the light has come.”

God loves and calls us all – John 6:24-35 and Ephesians 4:1-16

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” – John 6:35 .

These words from Jesus follow the story of the feeding of the 5,000. …

We have all probably experienced what is is like to be physically hungry. Just as those 5,000 who were fed by Jesus did. However, in the context of that miracle, Jesus talks about our hunger and thirst – not so much physical but spiritual.

Just as we feel hunger, all of us experience deep longings at the core of our beings which need to be fulfilled. Longings to be accepted, to be loved, to count for something, to make an impact, for others to see us as significant, as important or as strong.

Often these longings are well hidden away, but at times we encounter them in powerful ways. Perhaps in grief over the loss of a loved one, perhaps in the dark of the night when we are less in control of our emotions, perhaps at the point where everything seems to be going so well for us, yet something seems to be missing.

So many of us are driven to fulfil these longings for significance, for meaning in our lives. Perhaps we become workaholics, or we become demanding and jealous in our relationships, or we pursue success at the cost of everything else, or we turn to alcohol or drugs, or … some of us even go shopping.

And this is not a new problem – throughout the Old Testament – the people of Israel sought meaning, security and hope anywhere that they could. The prophets of old called their actions “prostitution.” For rather than being faithful to a God who had shown them immeasurable love, who had rescued them from slavery and had given them their own land, they wanted tangible security – gods that they could touch and feel. They sought solutions to their problems where no solutions would be found.

It’s part of the human condition! We long for our deepest needs to be met and we search for ways to make this happen!

Jesus says: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Or to put it more succinctly, “I am all you will ever need.”

All those desires for meaning, for hope, for significance, for love – those thirsts, those hungers. Pursue me, get to know me, spend time with me – and I will meet them. This is not just some idle promise made by a preacher looking for something to say on a Sunday evening. These are the timeless words of Jesus. They are Jesus promise to us.

And note: he doesn’t say “I’ll find you something to do for me, and then you’ll feel better” No, Jesus is talking about our very being, the very core of who we are, the bit no one else can see. Right at the core of who we are, that’s where Jesus will be – meeting our deepest desires for wholeness. And not just sparingly, but overwhelmingly, generously, and, just as in the story of the feeding of the five thousand, there’ll be plenty of leftovers, flowing out of hearts that are truly loved. For once we really know that we are loved, we can really begin to love others.

This is what Paul talks about in the Ephesians reading set for today. …

Out of the joy of knowing that we are loved will always come a response ….

Some of us will have seen an excellent example of being surprised by joy this week as we watched some of the celebrations of the England cricket team at what, I guess, for them, as well as for us, is an unexpected victory. The Guardian had some great photos – the great hug between Joe Root and Ian Bell after the winning run had been scored, the leap of joy by Joe Root when he scored the winning run. A jump that was high enough to see the stumps under his feet. Amazing natural responses of joy.

For Christians, there is also an overwhelming response of joy to the unbelievable truth that each of as individuals is loved by God and that  we together are God’s people, loved and accepted by him.  Paul says that the natural outworking of that joy is worship and loving service. We respond in worship and service. We use the gifts that God has given us as part of God’s on-going mission in the world. We give of ourselves to others, just as God in Jesus has given himself for us.

Jesus says: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” … In the Eucharist, I meet with you, I feed you. And in me you will find all that you need for life – and you are resourced to give of yourself to others in my church and in the world.

I want to leave you with Paul’s words from Ephesians …. as we read them, let’s remember that elsewhere in his letters Paul extends the list of gifts to include all kinds of ministry and service. And let’s hold one question in the forefront of our minds: ‘What can I/we do to respond in love to the God who loves me/us so much?

“When Christ ascended on high  … he gave gifts to his people. The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. … Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”                                                (Ephesians 4.8-16)