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Sunday 16th September - Mark 8.27-38
Twitter hash tag for this sermon #SDSWho
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A small group of us from work meet every six or eight weeks for what we call FOOD and a FILM Friday.
The only stipulation to the choice of DVD is that the person choosing must give a brief description of the film and the group decides whether we watch it or not.
It was my turn to pick the film recently. And described it as
“The story of a man telling those who would listen how they could change the establishment if they followed his way... and how a small group of men follow him and become the core of the vast numbers who joined his revolution. it finishes with the hero being crucified”
The group groaned and said you’ve brought the Passion of the Christ again haven’t you.
This was surprising as I was describing Spartacus starring Kirk Douglas.
Spartacus is one of my all time favourite films and I was shocked when one of our group said he had never heard of this epic film before.
But the poor sheltered lad is only 23.
So I promised I would just let him watch and I would not add the commentary.
It was hard at first but I soon found that I was watching the film as if I had never seen it before. I was seeing new layers to the film with fresh eyes; even though I knew how it ended I was seeing the bigger picture of what was happening within the story.
I realised that sometimes we read the bible just like watching our favourite film.
We know the story... how it ends and what happens to our hero from cradle to grave... and beyond.... but we can miss so much... Because of the framework our minds put around it.
If we read the bible or hear these scriptures as if it were the first time, then we are not putting our knowledge of the story into what we read...it allows us to see and hear it through fresh eyes and ears and we can experience first hand for ourselves the doubts... the fears... and the sadness felt at the time by those who like us today... are disciples of Christ.
Today is the last of 5 weeks of Gospel readings devoted to Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John. Beginning with the miracle of the feeding of 5,000 the whole Chapter has used bread as an extended metaphor to describe both: what it is that Jesus is offering; and, what is the relationship Jesus wants us to have with him - and thereby also with the One who abides in him.
The text this week presents us with a crisis of faith, a difficult teaching that will become a turning point for Jesus' disciples.
So far following Jesus has been easy and exciting - he has been performing signs and wonders, successfully challenging the authorities, and giving us hopes that "this is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world." (John 6:14)
But when Jesus says:
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.”
He turns the focus on his disciples. It is we who are the "those" in this teaching today.
The question in Verse 61 while directed at those who were within touching distance of Jesus is also addressed to us this morning too:
Does this offend you?
With our church friendly filters on the answer is it doesn’t offend us because we know the whole story.
But those first disciples were bound by the Torah, the Jewish Holy scriptures and what Jesus was asking, to eat his flesh and to drink his blood, whilst we associate it with the Eucharist was in direct contravention to the Law as read in Leviticus 17 vv10-14
10 If anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. 11For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement. 12Therefore I have said to the people of Israel: No person among you shall eat blood, nor shall any alien who resides among you eat blood. 13And anyone of the people of Israel, or of the aliens who reside among them, who hunts down an animal or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. 14 For the life of every creature—its blood is its life; therefore I have said to the people of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.
It was this connection to the Law that the disciples made that makes this a difficult to accept teaching. If they were to take this teaching literally then instead of abiding with Jesus they would be cut off by God…. and as much as they had seen what this teacher had to offer they made the choice to go back to their old way of life.
Just 5 weeks ago we heard how the crowd coming to hear Jesus numbered 5000 men and an unknown number of women and children he told them The Spirit is what gives life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. He was telling them the stuff of the Spirit, life giving stuff, real stuff. And yet there were many among them who did not believe, who can not, who would not trust when He said that the Kingdom of God is near."
And today we see that number down to just 12… but Jesus knew who they would be and also that among that number would be one who would finally betray him.
Over the next 12 months some will return. Some, like Nicodemus, will see that the Spirit does indeed give life that is eternal that is so much better than this life, new life that can begin right now. But the damage is done in this moment. Thousands walked away because Jesus' teaching was hard to accept. But the life he called his disciples to was about to get dangerous. You can't call yourself the bread of life, the very life and mind of God that came down to earth and think you'll survive. You can’t continue to use the ‘I am’ sayings in relation to yourself and not expect to upset the religious elite of his day. Being a disciple is not the fluffy cutesy life we have come to believe it to be.
Little did those who walked away offended by his teaching know that the Son of man would soon be lifted up on a cross after being beaten and stripped naked to carry his own cross through the streets.
I, like those thousands, once walked away from Jesus I didn’t need anyone to tell me how to live my life, how to spend my money, how to treat my neighbours. I had it all sorted. And yet I find myself here perhaps because of my hypocrisy, I didn’t need Jesus but Joanne and I wanted our son to go to one of the two church schools in the area and so I went back to church for the school letter to be signed… God does move in mysterious ways,,, and I began a wonderful relationship with God.
The Father invites us all into personal relationship with him. His love for us is so abundant that he's done everything in his power to call us back into his fold. But he won't force it on us. He lays the offer at our feet, but we've got to pick it up, make sense of it, and accept it. "All of us have been chosen by Jesus, and we are with him by his choice, not ours. What does your relationship look like? Yet belief and unbelief both remain realities. So it is, and so it has been from the beginning. Jesus has chosen us, but we are free - free to be with him or leave him. Jesus will never cast out any who come to him. But neither will he cajole, persuade, or bribe anyone to remain. His company will therefore always include those who do not believe and who will in the end betray. To believe, therefore, is to have been brought to the place were we know that we have to rely completely on Jesus, and on Jesus alone.
In just a few minutes we will stand up and together recite the Nicene Creed. We do so, I hope, with the thought in our mind that we are doing what Jesus called us to do, to believe. We begin each section by saying so, "We believe in one God... We believe in one Lord... We believe in the Holy Spirit..." But, what is the motivation. Does our belief mean the modernist "I hereby agree to the literal-factual truth of the following statements"? Or does our belief mean the ancient "I give my heart to, I commit my loyalty to and I completely trust in"?
The challenge I think we receive from Jesus this morning is not whether or not we can sign a statement of faith that says, "yes, I believe in the literal truth of all these facts," but rather, Jesus is asking us for our hearts, for our commitment, for our trust. That is what was so hard for the crowd in Capernaum. Jesus wanted everything from them, and they weren't prepared to give it. Are you prepared to give him everything? Does your belief in him mean that you rely solely on his provision? Or have you held something back? Would you rather just accept some propositions about Jesus instead of placing your whole life in his hands?
Belief is not a once and done thing, but a complete lifestyle renovation. I do not know what my future holds but I believe and trust in the one who holds my future.. For me, it means that every morning, and several times throughout the day, we have to reaffirm that we choose the teachings of Jesus. Not money. Not pride.. Not our own self-interests. But I’m sure God knows that we will fail and that it is our response to our failures that God looks for, our admissions that we have failed for when we fall and we will God will catch us.
Jesus turned the twelve and said, "Now's your chance. You can get out now, if that's what you'd like." Peter, on behalf of the group, and I hope on behalf of us responds, "Where else would we go? We trust your promise of life eternal. We pledge our allegiance to you, you are the Holy one of God. We're all in."
Does Peter speak for us this morning? Have we pledged our allegiance to the Kingdom of God today? Will we make our personal commitment to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords when we stand together and say, "Yes Lord, I believe?"
What is Baptism? - Sunday 12th August 2012
For Apple OS users and others click the link below for the PDF of sermon slides
For some it will be their first experience and for others it will evoke personal memories.
Some will be very excited at the beginning but before it ends they will be driven to distraction by it...
Some will be very structured in their planning and others will just go with the flow... Others will end up pulling their hair out.
And Oh yes the traffic will be a nightmare too…
But whatever your connection to it… however you are going to experience it we will all be affected in some way by the six weeks summer holidays our children will be having from their schools.. What did you think I was talking about?
I don't know about you but I have some wonderful memories of the summer holidays I experienced as a child… Especially when I was finally allowed to go out on my bike with a picnic lunch and a drink with the instructions ringing in my ears, don't get into any trouble and be home before the street lights come on.
They were the good old days and as hard as it might be for us to believe it as we read, listen or watch the news from around the world, its essential that we remember that for our children out there in the junior church these are going to be their Good old days...
I was reading some information this week about today's gospel reading... The feeding of the five thousand and I began to get frustrated that none of the commentators make any real comment about the fact that there was a child in this story... a young boy who is a very integral part of the story.
And it got me thinking what was he doing there?
John tells us it was nearly the Passover so he was there with his packed lunch...and I imagined his mother sending him out as she made the Passover preparations in the home. And then I started to consider that lunch...
It had originally begun… I decided, as I went off at a tangent, with just a handful of grain – scattered carelessly on the earth...
It wasn't a big handful...you wouldn't have noticed it falling on the soil - but nonetheless, through the grace of the Creator it sprouted and grew and in time there was a patch of corn for the family to tend
Not a big crop but a good few ears, which when harvested produced enough grain to grind and make a sack of flour. Just a small sack but still it was enough for this boys family to thank God as they made their bread for a few months.
There is nothing at all spectacular in any that.
What we have here is the stuff of ordinary life.
So ordinary that You wouldn't bother to turn your head to look...not at the grain, you would pass the corn growing without a second glance... nor the flour.... was it really worth all that work... not even at the fresh baked bread which made the whole kitchen smell so good as it was cooking….
But then those simple things those first grains, that corn, that flour became those loaves.... 5 of them wrapped up with two fish to make a picnic for a child...a child off exploring in the hill country, running free, but suddenly that child pauses… he is no longer playing as his attention is strangely held by the man telling wonderful stories to a crowd... A crowd of more people than this child had ever seen before.
Just one small child
And one packed lunch and a crowd
Nothing out of the ordinary here either...
Except now this boy had managed to get to the front of the crowd.
But then the moment came, two men… Jesus and Phillip were talking... how were they to feed everyone... six months wages would not buy enough bread for everyone to get even a tiniest piece... Suddenly that one ordinary boy dared to offer himself and all that he had, to the Teller of Tales.. There’s a boy here says Andrew with five loaves and two fish.
That small basket, packed with a small boy's lunch – fruit of the earth and work of human hands – was taken, it was blessed, broken open and then distributed.
And somehow, beyond all expectations, by the grace of God it was enough. Not just enough but there were twelve baskets of leftovers that were collected...
Some commenter’s say that perhaps everyone had food and this child's actions built up the community spirit and lunch became bring and share and Jesus was teaching about sharing but that is just scratching at the surface of this story and what does that do to Jesus other miracles was Lazarus only pretending to be dead? Whatever happened this was no longer an ordinary meal.
This morning we will see elements of that story re-enacted as the bread and the wine will be offered… it will be taken… blessed, broken and distributed and the leftovers will be collected up so that nothing will be wasted...
Last week Christine told us how the feeding of the 5000 had been omitted from the gospel reading last week and interestingly next week we will hear Jesus explain his meaning of what happened to the gathered crowd… as He will talk about Moses and the Manna and how He (Jesus) is the bread of life… Three weeks in a row we have the church giving to us parts of a story that appears in all four gospels and we also heard an O/T version this morning too, the question that raises for me is why? What is so important about this story that all four gospel writers include it and we are given provision to hear about over three weeks?
I believe it is asking us to consider what it is that we can offer to God…. its asking us to open our hearts to the need we see around us…. but it's also saying children are important don't forget them look at what they have to offer too…
Shortly we will come to the rail and accept what Jesus offered for us... Not mine but your will be done Father He said in the garden...
We will open our hearts and offer ourselves just as we are as the hymn writer tells us and Jesus will accept whatever we offer....however meagre (perhaps our time during the Olympics to keep the church open and greet people with hospitality... Or perhaps time just to be with God not just on a Sunday but also during the weekday Eucharist held here)
Like that small boy and his small packed lunch
So it is with us.
We bring nothing spectacular to God's table... We are Ordinary people, bringing ordinary hopes, ordinary fears and broken dreams...
Nothing to offer, really – but if we should dare to truly offer ourselves, with all that we have and all that we are then, we too can be blessed, broken, distributed....and like those five small loaves and two fish find ourselves transformed beyond all hopes and expectations...
We will be Blessed by God as we meet Him in the bread and wine of the Eucharist with these elements God longs to fill us, as St Paul grasped in our second reading today “that you may be filled with all the Fullness of God” Fullness of life. Fullness of love. Love without conditions, love without limits a love that never ends. This is a Love that enfolds each and every one of us here. Love that transforms us... just as a fragment of bread and a sip of wine are transformed through God's grace into His Body & Blood – to be all that we need to sustain us as we journey in faith, that we may be Blessed to go out so that we to might be a blessing in turn to those we meet in our daily lives...
And following the distribution of communion we will give thanks to God for feeding us with that gift of the Son so freely offered and in our hearts we will hear God speaking to us not only to help us to discern what He would like us to do but that we will also hear His message to go out and love as He loves us so that we can be that living sacrifice of a love freely offered... of a love received and of the love of the Christ that needs to be shared to the glory of God…
What we can learn from today's gospel is that whatever we offer however small God can use it and if we should think to ourselves what can God use from me I have nothing worthy to offer let's just look at what John tells us in the miracle he saved later on that day just for his disciples...
“When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19When they had rowed about three or four miles,* they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, ‘It is I;* do not be afraid.’ 21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.” Jn 6:16-21
Do not be afraid he told them and do not be afraid he tells us today too because sometimes what we offer to God can take us on a journey we never expected but He will always be there to guide us.
The question for us today is simply what do we have to offer our Lord and Saviour? And are we prepared for how He might use us?
John the Baptist - Mark 6.14-29 Sunday 14th July
Twitter hash tag for this sermon #SDSJohnB
PDF of sermon slides
For Apple OS users and others click the link below for the PDF of sermon slides