Monday 31 August 2015

The Way of the Heart - Not Washing Up.

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10

Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B:

 The Way of the Heart -  Not Washing Up.

I have a friend who has suffered each winter for many years from what is called "seasonal affected disorder or sadness" (SAD). At the end of August he looks forward to the long summer months ahead and he is once again a happy man. All of us are leaving behind the flu season which leads us to regularly washing our hands thoroughly and using hand sanitisers to prevent our getting sick. Many churches even ask those giving out communion to use a hand sanitiser before they distribute holy communion. Since childhood I was told to, “Wash your hands before you come to the table.” It makes perfect sense to wash our hands before eating and more frequently during the flu season. So, what’s all the fuss about “unclean” and “unwashed hands in Mark's gospel (7: 1-8,14-15, 21-23) set for this weekend? Is it possible that Jesus and his disciples were not concerned about personal cleanliness and hygiene? A careful reading shows us this is not the case. 

Mark's Gospel (sometimes called St Peter's Gospel) is possibly writing for a non-Jewish audience in Rome with no deep knowledge of Jewish rituals for hand washing. The Old Testament did not require hand washing before meals. The washing purification rituals were part of the oral tradition passed down by the rabbis upon return their from the great exile in Babylon. It was a matter of ceremonial cleanliness, mostly promoted by the Pharisees, who tried to tie temple customs with daily life. There is a lesson in what the Pharisees were teaching that there is a place for religious practices in daily life. This is what we do when we placed crucifixes or images of the Saints in our homes or work places? They are reminders of the presence of the sacred in our daily lives. I can remember the fervour of my childhood rituals of lighting candles to say my night prayers before the plastic statue of the sacred heart that could glow in the night. I felt really holy because I did my ritual - sometimes with attention and other times just out of mindless habit. So often I was such a little Pharisee, judging others as unholy and canonising myself as a saint because of my external acts and rituals of religious piety. My little Pharisee in the making got more out of it than God.

 “The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus ....” Can you feel the tension? These officials have come from the Jewish religious establishment in Jerusalem. The crowd around Jesus would have seen and probably overheard what these officials from Jerusalem were saying to Jesus. They came to challenge Jesus about “the tradition of the elders.” They thought Jesus was violating the body of unwritten laws which was made up of 613 precepts they believed truly religious and pious people should observe. Why did Jesus respond so strongly to the Pharisees? Maybe because they seemed to be setting themselves up as paragons of holiness and virtue. Jesus was not rejecting the religious customs they practiced as much as their intention to attack him. So, he calls them "hypocrites". As a child I knew people (especially in my family) who were not catholic and who had no prayer rituals and never went to church and because of that I judged them. Thank God, I have grown up from my childish primary school judgemental pharisaic state of mind to know that God sees all of us and judges the heart and intentions behind all that we do in our faith traditions.

 The Pharisees claimed to be devout, even more so than their contemporaries, however Jesus tells them they “disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” The Bible doesn’t spell out how to wash hands, food utensils before eating, but it is very explicit about loving God by loving neighbour, caring for widows and orphans and giving to the poor. Jesus tells the crowd it is not food which passes through the
body but behaviour that defiles us. Jesus knows or suspects that the Pharisees may have been accusing his disciples of ritual violations, but that was just an excuse to attack him. His response to the Pharisees is a prophetic one. He uses the prophet Isaiah to condemn superficial observance of religious practices of those who failed in their commitment to God. He supports his argument by pointing to what Isaiah condemns, “these people honour me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me. The worship they offer is worthless, the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.” It’s not what’s external that renders a person “unclean.” It’s what is in the depths of a person’s heart. Jesus reminds us that in our hearts reside jealousy, revenge, hatred, lust, oppression and from the heart come acts that humans inflict on one another.

The history of the world and of the church is a testimony to the destructive legacy of those who have held onto beliefs with unbending tenacity. These rigid believers life the Pharisee's in the gospel become unattractive representatives for their cause by alienating themselves from anyone who differs from them. Their fanaticism in reality is meaningful only to themselves. The Apostle Paul faced the same restrictive fanaticism as he took the Jesus faith out into the Gentile world. His true-believing Jewish converts, insisted that the only way Gentiles could become Christians would be for them to take on all the Jewish customs.

Our Church history is littered with the results of what we have done to preserve " .. human regulations." The well known Christian hymn "Now Thank We All Our God" was written by Martin Rinkart, a Lutheran pastor during the Thirty Years' War (1618-48) in Germany. His walled city received hundreds of refugees into its safety. However, the safe city became subject to the plague because of overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions. Rinkart sometimes buried forty to fifty plague victims a day. But under such terrible conditions, Rinkart held to a vibrant faith in Christ. The scandalous part of the story is that the war which so affected his life and the lives of so many others was fought between Roman Catholic and Protestant true believers. It is horrible to think that fanatical true-faith-believing Christians would cause such unspeakable violence to one another in the name of human traditions! 

How easy it is for us as believers to slip into thinking and behaving like the Pharisees who confronted Jesus. Jesus calls us to our interior and exterior religious observance in a spirit of humility. To help us to remain humble we begin each liturgy by asking for mercy for 'what we have done and what we had failed to do'. This gives us an opportunity to address our ego-led intentions behind our external deeds. Each of us desires to have a clean heart before God and that is what we can receive when we ask for mercy. In the reading from James (1:17-18, 21b-22, 27), we are reminded of the source of our good “Every good gift, every perfect gift comes from above….” We can examine our conscience as we go to the liturgy guided by this reading. James tells us we will be “pure and undefiled before God” if we “care for orphans and widows in their affliction.” This is the kind of practical religious observance we try to bring to our worship every time we gather for the Eucharist.

5th Sunday of August Healing Service

Andre-Rublev's Saviour
The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus: Mark 10:46-52

46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 4747 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 4848 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 4949 Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 5151 Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher,* let me see again.’ 52 Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” *

It is, I think fair to say that every person will approach passages of scripture from their own perspective.  Some will find depths within the passages, others may not see.  On other occasions, we will get an insight into something we had not thought of before, even though we may know the passage very well.  This is I believe the work, or prompting, of the Holy Spirit.  Each revelation has its own purpose and meaning.  If we listen, the Spirit has a way of speak to us, just the words we need, when we need them.

Today we have a healing service, so remember always, that there is a difference between healing and curing.  We often confuse the two terms.  If we understand that healing is something that affects our spirit, our beings.  We may need healing for a past emotional hurt; or to help us come to accept the existence of an illness, disease or condition that may be with us for the rest of our earthly lives.  To be cured of an illness, disease or condition means that it has been completely removed from our physical bodies.  We can then see curing is something most often performed by the medical profession.  Miracles excepted, of course!  If we use these two terms in this way, then we can see that it is possible to be healed, and not be cured, of the illness, disease or condition we are suffering from.

In Mark’s telling of the healing we know a lot about Bartimaeus.  He was Timaeus’ son.  He was blind.  He was a beggar.  He lived outside Jericho.  He had a loud voice.  He knew who Jesus was.  He was not afraid to call out.  He knew he needed Jesus’ healing touch.

Does this sound like any of us? We have things in common with Bartimaeus.  We are someone’s child, we know who Jesus is, and we are, in some way also needing God’s healing touch.  Bartimaeus sought his healing through God’s mercy.  Do we also seek God’s mercy?  Are we certain that we can attain God’s mercy?  Do we perhaps prefer to listen to ourselves, or those around us who make us feel unloved, rather than seeking God’s love and mercy?
* Scripture is from: ‘New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.’

Do you shrink back from reaching out to God?  Do you think it is safer to be lost in the crowd?  Bartimaeus did not think or do this, nor should we.  Healing comes through seeking God’s mercy, not shrinking from it.  When Bartimaeus knew Jesus was near, and could have mercy on him, he shouted, standing out from the crowd.

Jesus heard Bartimaeus calling out to him and stopped.  Jesus told the crowd to call Bartimaeus forward.  The crowd listened and then encouraged Bartimaeus to go forward.  Perhaps there are times when we call out, but are not so certain that we have been heard.  We expect a response, a reply to our calling out.  When what we expect does not happen, how and when we want it, then we become disillusioned and perhaps even abandon our faith.

Bartimaeus did not know he had been heard.  It was the crowd around him, which told him to take heart.  Moreover, when Bartimaeus was called he went.  There was no hesitation, no delay no question.  He held fast to his faith.

Do we do the same?  Perhaps in love and mercy, God has answered your call for healing and you did not hear it?  Did you delay, question or just simply ignore the reply?  Be attentive for the reply (others may tell you of it) and then be decisive - go and do.  Hold onto your faith.  Remember, Bartimaeus took decisive action when he sought, and heard, God’s mercy.

St Mark tells us a lot about that Bartimaeus’ healing.  He received his sight, after Jesus had told him he was healed.  Jesus spoke the words of healing - Mark does not say Jesus touched Bartimaeus.  Then Bartimaeus followed Jesus along the road.

His faith that Jesus could heal him was all that Bartimaeus needed to be healed.  When we read this, it seems so simple.  Yet we like to make it all a lot more complicated for ourselves, why?  Perhaps we are not certain of our faith.  Perhaps we look for an ‘insurance policy”, a “backup plan.”  Just in case!  Bartimaeus was not content to be healed and then go back to his old place, his back up plan.  He was healed and so he started a new journey.  Is this our experience?  Is this what we do?  Do we follow along the road?

If it was our faith that brought us to God, to seek God’s mercy, love, and healing, surely we can do nothing else but be certain.  To do otherwise is to doubt.  So take heart, start, or re-start your faith journey.  It is a wonderful, mysterious and loving trip.

Remember, it was Bartimaeus’ faith that healed him.


Sunday 23 August 2015

The Outrageous Mystery of Our Faith!

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10

Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B:

 The Outrageous Mystery of Our Faith!

This is the last of 5 weeks in which the church reflects on Chapter 6 in the Gospel of John. 

The chapter began with the 'sign' of the feeding of 5,000 men and the unknown number of women and children. The whole of the 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. The text this week (John 6:60-69) presents us with a crisis of faith, a difficult teaching, that will become a turning point for many of the disciples of Jesus. So far following Jesus has had exciting moments as he performed signs and wonders, tense moments when he challenged the religious authorities. Many of the disciples had come to hopes that Jesus was "indeed the prophet who is to come into the world." (John 6:14)

However, when Jesus says: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides (lives) in me, and I in them" (6:56) he turns the focus on his disciples and on us. It is we who are the "whoever" in his teaching. The question from the disciples; "This message is harsh. Who can hear (stand) it?" and the question from Jesus; "Does this offend you?" are addressed to us. Jesus goes on to say; "What if you were to SEE the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?" As we read this text remember that Jesus is no longer on the hillside with the thousands but with his disciples teaching now in the Synagogue in Capernaum. The number of followers seem to have fallen off but Jesus is uncompromising in the sharing of his truth.

The question "what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? This question should get us thinking about what we have already SEEN in Jesus - or at least to remember what it is that the gospel writer John has SEEN. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... All things came into being through him ... What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people ... And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have SEEN his glory ... full of grace and truth." (John 1:1,3,4,14) John has SEEN and wants us to SEE the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth, light and life. But John does NOT want us to "see" in the simple sense of intellectual understanding. If we were to SEE the Son of Man ascending to where he was before, then perhaps we might SEE who it is who has descended from Heaven and is right here before our very eyes living (abiding) among us. "The Word became flesh and lived (abided) among us."

John wants us to hear the word, "abides or lives" as being as viscerally real as "flesh" and "blood." And to hear the words, "flesh" and "blood," as dynamically real as "abide." Abide is a verb. It not a material substance but a conscious dynamic relationship. But the teaching of Jesus still asks us to make a deeper level of commitment to the reality of who he is for us. Since blood was understood in the Jewish faith tradition to be "the seat of life" and belonging solely to God, Jesus is asking us to make him and those who abide in him the seat of their life, the very centre of their life; belonging to God alone.

John's story started five weeks ago with the crowd of 5000 seeking Jesus after the miracle of the loaves. Now the vast numbers are almost gone. If you count success by numbers, then Jesus seems to be a failure. Even among the Twelve one will betray Jesus - and he knows it. So, at the end of today's passage we find that only Jesus and the Twelve are left. When Jesus says to his disciples "Do you also want to leave?" Peter responds, "Lord, who shall we go to? You have the words (message) of eternal life. We BELIEVE and KNOW that you are the Holy One of God." 

In scripture faith is a verb an action by which we consent and act. But it is also a process. Peter and the others, like us, have faith, but it needs to grow stronger. The faith of the Twelve does not amount to much at this stage of their journey. Jesus' suffering and death will severely test their faith. But the faith they have now is a starting point and the disciples believe in Jesus and have surrendered their past, present and future to him. Jesus, for his part, has something to work with, in the growing faith of his few disciples and in time will send the Spirit upon them to finish the work he has begun. Still, this is not about what mere human "flesh" can accomplish, but about what the Spirit can do with willing disciples who say, as we do by being at the Eucharist, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

 Jesus in feeding the 5000 and his accompanying words, has asked his followers to make a life-altering decision. He asks them, "Do you also want to leave?" In other words, did they see in him the One they were expecting? They certainly did not have a lot to base their hopes on; he was losing many disciples who were disenchanted with him. Although all the evidence is not in yet, we like the disciples want a deeper life with God and believe, as Peter confessed, "You have the words of eternal life. We (have come to) believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." The words Jesus speaks to us are spirit and life. When Christ is present, life is present. But there will be some who will find it hard believe, find it difficult to trust and bond with him. John wants us to come to believe, to trust him, to have life in him. Not the life of this flesh that ends in death, but the life of the Word that became flesh - full of grace and truth. As we read or hear the words of the gospel this weekend, let us realise that nothing can ever compare to what we have come to believe about the Eucharist, which is the outrageous mystery of our faith.

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, year B - Br. Andrew

Homily preached by Br Andrew e.f.o. at Springwood on Sunday 23rd August 2015

Andre-Rublev's Saviour

Just frivolity:

I shall share with you something my mate Fr Dave Smith of Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill mentioned in his sermon last week which might clarify things in the end.

He said “Now, in case you’re not familiar with the different understandings that exist between the different Christian denominations when it comes to the Eucharist, the best way of remembering the distinctions, I think, was that given to me by my old mate, Tony Campolo (the great Baptist evangelist) who put it this way:
• In the Catholic understanding, the bread mysteriously becomes the body of Jesus and the blood mysteriously becomes His blood
• In the Anglican understanding, the bread remains bread and the wine remains wine, but to the person who consumes them in faith they become the body and blood of Jesus.
• In the Baptist understanding, he points out, the bread remains bread, and the wine magically becomes grape juice!”

At any rate, if you’re a good Catholic, you may well make an immediate association between this dialogue and the Eucharist – a sacrament that had its origin, you’ll remember, in the ‘Last Supper’ between Jesus and His disciples”

In this the fifth and final interlude of John’s Gospel within this part of the Markan year I intend to state the Non-conformist-middle point of view concerning the understanding of Jesus discourse at Capernaum.

While most agree that the event of the Feeding of the 5000 itself was representative of the first Holy Communion that is where the agreement ends. Protestant Commentators and Theologians such as Matthew Henry and Calvin, agree that Jesus’ teaching in the Synagogue was not about the Sacrament or Ordinance of Holy Communion / Eucharist. Therefore the true meaning intended by his words “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I in him.” John 6:56 are of a Spiritual nature and the instruction concerning His Body and Blood is to be understood figuratively.
Note there is no mention of wine.

Calvin commented that this discourse doesn’t relate to the Lord's Supper, but to the perpetual communication of the flesh of Christ, ["De la chair de Christ."] which we obtain apart from the use of the Lord's Supper. Communion alone does not grant us the Eternal life Jesus speaks of unless those that do so also follow His Words. It has been said by the theologians that they are saved who do not receive the Holy Communion and they are lost with it because it is not in the slavish keeping of the Holy Communion by which we are saved but in participating in this perpetual Communication of the flesh of Christ.

Matthew Poole writes, quote  “Feeding is to be meant believing in him; only here is a clearer discovery than was there in John 3:16-18, of the true object of that faith which justifies, namely a Christ crucified, for that is signified by the flesh and blood mentioned.”, end quote. While Albert Barnes draws our attention to the meaning ‘dining together’, had among the Jews, it was expressive of sharing in or partaking of the privileges of friendship.  The happiness of heaven and all spiritual blessings are often represented under this image, see Luke 14:15, “One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’”

Poole also comments on the terrible and awful notion that Jesus intended us to take his words literally and speaks disparagingly of the Council of Trent and goes on to comment that the situation demanded Jesus use the figure of eating and drinking because that was the subject of the  discourse; because the Jews were very proud of the fact that their fathers had eaten manna; and because, Jesus had said that he was the bread of life, it was natural and easy, especially in the language i.e. the specific words,  which he used, to carry out the illustration, and say that bread must be eaten in order to be of any use in supporting and saving men.

At the murmuring of his disciples  at such ‘hard sayings’ Jesus asks them “Does this cause you to stumble what if you would see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” John 6:62, a change of subject?

No, far from it, an illustration that points to the following year when Jesus would be crucified, dead and buried, rise from the dead and ascend into heaven. Meyer in his original language commentary uses these words Will not this impending sight serve to offend you still more” for “Does this cause you to stumbleand says of it that he whom they believe to be mortal to Ascend into heaven is just as preposterous as literally and actually eating his flesh and drinking his blood. But for those future readers who have formed erroneous or heretical Eucharistic conceptions who are already aware that Jesus is God –They are to understand that their practices and understandings have gotten out of hand because the Son of Man has ascended in his flesh and is not here to be feasted upon.

The crux of this communication Jesus is making both to those in the Synagogue and to us is that Jesus intends all that he has taught them to be understood in the Spiritual context 6;63 “ It is the spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing: the words that I speak unto you, [they] are spirit, and [they] are life.”

When we and John’s readers, contemplate the spirit we are drawn past the Ascension to Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is given but  John’s subjects remain ignorant indifferent or curious and eager to understand. When those who partake in the perpetual communicating of the flesh of Christ have received this Spirit they will be taught by the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father has sent in the name of Jesus, who will teach them all things and will remind them of everything Jesus had said to them. They will find a deeper meaning than the carnal one as they compare manna from heaven and the Ascension of the Son of Man and will know that Jesus did not intend that the Holy Communion or the Communicating of the Flesh of Christ to be carnal but spiritual.

Any mother will tell you of the amazing experience of ‘quickening’ when she begins to know  her child is truly alive and developing.

This quickening by the Spirit is what brings us to Spiritual birth and keeps us alive in Christ if we “obey his word we will never see death." John 8:51
And "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” John 14:23

Next verse

But this is conditional on a person being called to perpetual communication of the flesh of Christ (to faith) by the Father for we do not choose God but he chooses us. For faith in Christ is the gift of God, and coming to him, is due to efficacious grace, and is not the practice of man's power and free will. It is truly the will of the Father that all who see Jesus and believe in him may have eternal life; and he will raise them up on the last day. John 6:40
From the pulpit commentary - Christ does not give the hunger, but the bread. From the beginning he saw the existence of the appetite after the bread which he came to bequeath. John 6:40

St Peter gives us the climax “We have come to believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  After declaring there is nowhere else to go.

This Jesus in whom we believe is the very Son of God without whom we can live and so we feed upon Him in our hearts and by this we mean the continual communication between Him and His Body of all he is and has been to us while in the flesh and all he is now in Heaven.

And we keep his Holy ordinance as the New Covenant in His Blood because he asked us to but before hand or certainly at some time we need to harken to the voice of the Father and be led by him through sanctifying Grace into the eternal communication of love between  ourselves and Christ, of the communication of his flesh. United to His Body through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Christianity – a religion of the flesh! - Fr Dave Smith

Fr. Dave Smith

First preached by Father Dave Smith at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, on Sunday the 15th of August, 2015.

Christianity – a religion of the flesh! (A sermon on John 6:4-51)

Watch this on youtube

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)
One if the great things about Julie (who preached at Holy Trinity last week) is that she always submits the written version of her sermon to me afterwards for an evaluation, and that’s not an easy thing to do! Sermons are very personal creations. You tend to share a lot of yourself in a sermon. Even if the sermon doesn’t contain a lot of personal detail about the preacher, it inevitably deals with issues that are very close to the preacher’s heart and so it’s tough to have your sermon torn apart in critical analysis!

Even so, we try to set a high standard here at Holy Trinity! I actually do consider it fundamental to my role here to safeguard the pulpit and see that sermons given here remain within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy and, moreover, that our preachers communicate clearly in a way that can be understood by everybody and anybody who chooses to join us.

I would consider it a problem if our addresses here at Holy Trinity were pitched exclusively at those who had a tertiary theological education. Sermons, in my opinion, should generally make just one point and make it unambiguously, such that everyone who attends church, even if they arrive here rather fuzzy-minded and confused, should be able to go home with a clearer understanding of the Scriptures that were read that day!

The only problem I have to grapple with here in my eminently reasonable approach to preaching is that Jesus Himself – our Lord and leader and our chief source of inspiration as preachers – didn’t seem to make any attempt whatsoever to abide by these standards! On the contrary Jesus’ sermons habitually left his audience befuddled and confused and arguing with one another over what on earth He was talking about!

Even Jesus’ own disciples had trouble with Him. They were constantly asking Jesus to explain things to them while also asking Him why He persisted in speaking to people in riddles. And if you remember Jesus’ response to that question (as given, for example, in Mark 4:12), He responds by quoting from the prophet Isaiah – “so that they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding” (Isaiah 6:9) – which suggests that with His parables Jesus was deliberately trying to confuse people!
And it’s not only the parables that are a problem. Indeed, today’s reading from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel seems to be another example of Jesus attempting to be deliberately obscure and even offensive: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)

It is tempting, as a preacher, to pick another passage to preach on when this one comes up as it is difficult to interpret. Moreover, the greater problem I have as a preacher is that if I do manage to interpret this passage and make something clear and unambiguous out of it (in accordance my principles of good preaching) I’m doing what Jesus seems to be deliberately not doing!

So what do we do with words like these? It’s not immediately obvious, is it?  If you, like me, find yourself in a difficult position after hearing these words from Jesus then we are in roughly the same position as the crowd who first heard these words. They, likewise, were unsure what to do with Jesus’ words.

They began to argue sharply among themselves, John tells us, saying “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52) and Jesus responds to this, not by settling them down with any straightforward common-sense explanation – ‘Hey guys, there’s no need to panic! I’m using metaphor’ – but instead seems to deliberately stir them up even further!
“Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.” (John 6:53-56)

Of course if you’re a good Catholic you may be thinking to yourself by now ‘What is your problem? He’s talking about the Eucharist! Isn’t that obvious?’
Fair call! If you are a good Catholic with a traditional Catholic understanding of the Eucharist – that the bread and wine of the Eucharist literally become the flesh and blood of Jesus when they are consecrated by the priest, then this dialogue makes sense as an exhortation to participate in the sacrament!

Now, in case you’re not familiar with the different understandings that exist between the different Christian denominations when it comes to the Eucharist, the best way of remembering the distinctions, I think, was that given to me by my old mate, Tony Campolo (the great Baptist evangelist) who put it this way:
In the Catholic understanding, the bread mysteriously becomes the body of Jesus and the blood mysteriously becomes His blood
In the Anglican understanding, the bread remains bread and the wine remains wine, but to the person who consumes them in faith they become the body and blood of Jesus.
In the Baptist understanding, he points out, the bread remains bread, and the wine magically becomes grape juice!

At any rate, if you’re a good Catholic, you may well make an immediate association between this dialogue and the Eucharist – a sacrament that had its origin, you’ll remember, in the ‘Last Supper’ between Jesus and His disciples.   
The problem with making that link here though, in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, is that the Last Supper hasn’t happened by this stage. Moreover, while the Last Supper, where Jesus breaks the bread and shares the wine, saying ‘This is my body/This is my blood’, is recorded in each of the first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) it isn’t actually recorded in John’s Gospel at all, which is why even good Catholic scholars are reluctant to see these words in John 6 as a reference to an event that John failed to record!

If Jesus wasn’t referring to the Eucharist, was He really just trying to confuse us? I believe that there is a third possibility – namely, that Jesus was trying to make a point, and one that had to be made using really stark and offensive language because it’s a point that is not easy to hear.

In truth, communicating with people is not easy. That was my starting point today – that good communication requires clarity, but sometimes clarity is not enough when it comes to good communication!

I was speaking to a school teacher during the week who was keen to get me to come and speak to her children as she said “they are so used to listening to me they never really hear what I have to say!” I said “I hear you, sister! We preachers have exactly the same problem!”

Sometimes it’s not what you’re saying but who is saying it that’s the problem! And sometimes it’s not what you’re saying or who’s saying it but rather the filters we have as hearers that transform whatever is being said into something we can more comfortably hear.

A good friend of mine worked for many years as a missionary in some very poor parts of Africa and he had a very strong understanding of Jesus’ teachings about the dangers of material wealth and our obligations as followers of Jesus to share what we have with the poor. When he came back to Australia the church put this man in a very wealthy parish and I wondered how he would go.

I asked him “how do your people respond when you talk to them about Jesuscondemnation of the rich? Are they offended” He said “No. I find wherever I go that when people hear Jesus talk about ‘the rich’ they always assume He is referring to people in the wealth bracket just above theirs” (just as we do)!
Sometimes our filters and our prejudices are such that it is almost impossible to hear what people say no matter how clearly they say it, and this is why sometime humor or poetry or song can communicate much more potently than any confrontational statement, and sometimes, conversely, it is a confrontational statement that is needed in order to achieve penetration!
I am the living bread that came down from heaven” says Jesus. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)
Jesus is trying to make a point, and it is a counter-intuitive point, and it’s a point that is not easy for us to hear as it confronts all our religious prejudices, and that point surely is that what we really need from Jesus is Jesus!
If that doesn’t make immediate sense try looking at things from the perspective of the crowd who first heard this. What were they doing there?
From the greater dialogue in this section of John’s Gospel it’s evident that a lot of the people who were there were just looking for a free feed!
Others may have been looking to be entertained by Jesus.
No doubt some of them were looking for wisdom and direction in life.
No doubt many were there hoping to be healed of their illnesses.
Quite likely most of them were there because their friends were there and they had nothing better to do.
Whatever the crowds were doing there it’s pretty clear that neither they nor the disciples really understood that the most important thing Jesus had to offer them was His body!
Jesus had lots of good ideas but it wasn’t His ideas that they most needed!
Jesus had no shortage of wisdom but it wasn’t Jesus’ wisdom that they most needed.
Jesus had the power to heal them of disease as He had the power to feed them, but it wasn’t his power to heal or to feed (in the ordinary sense of the words) that they most needed.

What they most needed from Jesus and what we most need from Jesus is Jesus – in His body: the flesh of Jesus melded with our flesh, the body of Jesus as a part of our body, the life of Jesus living within us – and if that sounds offensive and all too fleshly then it’s time to be offended for, as this passage makes very clear, Christianity is a religion of the flesh!

This, as I say, confronts our religious intuitions. We look to religion to get wisdom, direction, comfort. What Jesus tells us is that what we need most is not more knowledge. We need to be transformed in our bodies! We need His flesh to become a part of our flesh! He need His blood flowing through our veins just as we need to be breathing His breath and seeing through His eyes. We need to be living the life of Jesus. We need God with us in our bodies!

This indeed is the heart of the Christian Gospel, as I understand it – that God comes to us in Jesus, not simply to pass on good advice, nor to hand down to us any new set of laws, but simply to be with us in body, and to make contact with us in our bodies, and to become involved with us and to suffer and die with us (and for us) and to be present with us in our bodies, always!

Father’s Day is coming up, and I know that in some Primary Schools they still have special Father’s Day events that (sadly) few fathers ever manage to attend. Even so, I heard of one such day where kids in the class were taking turns standing up and telling their classmates about their fathers.
My dad is a gynecologist one boy proudly announced, and then went on in some detail to explain to the rest of the class all the wonderful things his dad was capable of doing (much to the amazement of his peers and the horror of his teacher). A young girl then stood up and announced that her dad was a lawyer, and she likewise spoke in glowing terms of her dads work.
As the next little girl got up the teacher winced a little as she knew her dad was unemployed at the moment and she was concerned that this girl wouldn’t know what to say but, on the contrary, this little one jumped up beaming and announced proudly to everyone “my dad … is here!

Presence – real, tangible, physical presence! It’s what we need most from those who love us, and it’s what we need most from God as well. Yes, we need rules and we need wisdom and we need healing and we need a lot of things, but most of all we just need Him! We need God, and we need God in Jesus – living with us and through us, His body in our bodies.
For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven … whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:55-58)

Monday 17 August 2015

Be A Wise Loving Diner

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary, 

Time Year B: Be A Wise Loving Diner

 We live in a world that honours and values information. Yet our 1st reading from the 'First Testament' Proverbs (9:1-6) - speaks of 'wisdom'. I wonder what comes to your mind as you hear the words 'wisdom'. Wisdom is different from the idea of knowledge. Philosophers tell us there are two types of knowledge. Real knowledge refers to experience, and notional knowledge refers to head knowledge. When young children are told not to touch something because it is hot and it will burn them they have notional knowledge. However, if the child disobeys the parent and touches the hot object and experiences a burn then they now have real knowledge or wisdom. Wisdom is when notional knowledge becomes a lived reality. For the young person with burn they are experiencing 'the begetting of wisdom' - hopefully. Wisdom usually refers to a quest for deep knowledge that will bring happiness and contentment in the face of the mystery of life's hardships and complexity.

For the ancient Israelites, wisdom was taught by their sages. These sages gave practical knowledge about daily living applicable to each and all. That was how they and the Bible understood wisdom. Proverbs depicts wisdom as a very active independent female figure. She has built herself a house, she has prepared her table, she has brought forth her wine and invites her guests to a special banquet - a banquet of wisdom. "Come, eat of my bead and drink of my wine!" Wisdom serves practical life-giving knowledge to her guests - the foolish, the ignorant, men and women - and wants to teach them to discern what is the good and right way to live. Wisdom's nurturing banquet is for all people who seek to life
lives pleasing to God.

Last Sunday, in our gospel passage from John (6:41-51) Jesus was presented as the bread come down from heaven. He told his opponents - the complainers - that those drawn by God would be taught by God and then will come to Jesus. This Sunday the gospel discourse continues with a more Eucharistic interpretation. Jesus says he is 'the bread come down from heaven' and, "The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." Jesus openly and honestly declares that his flesh is food and his blood is drink for us. In his language "flesh and blood" represents the whole human being. Applied to Jesus the term has several meanings. It refers to his taking on flesh and blood in the Incarnation. It also stirs up images of the sacrificial animals slaughtered and eaten in the Temple. So, Jesus is both a sacrificial victim and our food and drink. Previously the reference to the bread from heaven had to do with believing in Jesus, the one sent by God. Now, in today's section from the 'Bread of Life' discourse, eternal life comes to us by our feeding on Jesus. Those who "feed on me will have life because of me." Feeding on Jesus already gives us a share in eternal life and a promise of fullness of life when we will be raised from the dead on the last day. Jesus shares eternal life with his Father and we who are drawn to Jesus by the Father, get to share in that life because we feed on the him, the bread of life.

 In the sixth chapter of John's gospel, the Eucharist and its effects are explained for us. From the two parts of the 'Bread of Life Discourse' we can say that Christ is present and gives himself to us in a twofold way: in the Word we hear at our celebration and in his presence in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Our church continues this twofold structure of Word and Sacrament in our worship. It is the basic structure of our Mass. Receiving the flesh and blood of Christ is not a magical rite. The discourse directs us to see the life Jesus gives us by both "believing" and "eating" with faith the sacrament. For the Christian who receives the Eucharist Jesus remains in us and we remain in him. The bread and wine don't last forever, but the life we receive in the life-
giving meal is eternal. John told us at the beginning of chapter six that he worked his 'sign' and gave his teaching at the time of Passover. This reminds us that Jesus is our Passover meal and when we eat and drink at the 'Table of the Lord' we are united with his life and death. We don't demand "signs" as his opponents did. We have a sign
enough for our faith in the broken bread and cup poured out for us. 

As we hear in our first reading, that 'wisdom' has spread a table of choice food and drink. We should know that Jesus (God-come-in-the flesh) is the 'wisdom' of God revealed for the healing of the world. It is Jesus 'holy wisdom' himself who call us to 'the holy table of plenty' to dine with him. Our presence at the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign that we have accepted his invitation. We come to Jesus, seeking a wisdom we don't have for ourselves, but need for our daily living. We seek how to be able to be like him in being 'bread broken' and 'wine poured out' for others. Walking the way of unconditional sacrificial love is not natural to us, so we need the power of Christ's wisdom that comes with the gift of himself from the 'table of life'. 

Our Eucharistic meal at the altar-table is not a meal for a few and it is not just about our salvation. It is meant to empower all Christians to go into the world with the life of Christ we have received. What we celebrate at 'the Lord' Table' we are to put into practice. We ask for the gift of wisdom to know how to do that in our specific life circumstances. The Eucharist unites us to Christ and so; through him, with him and in him, holy wisdom is given to us. We go from the table of life and love to feed the hungers of God's holy people.

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost Year B - Br. Simeon

Order.Homily preached by Brs. Simeon at Springwood and Maroubra on Sunday 16th August 2015
Andre-Rublev's Saviour


Gospel:  John 6: 51-58

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

In the Name of the One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Some of you may remember that back in the 1970’s, a soccer team crashed landed while flying over the Andes Mountains. After quite some time had passed, they realised all rescue efforts had been abandoned, and they had run out of food. How would they survive? After much debate, they decided to eat the flesh of those who had died. As horrific as that seems to us, because they ate the flesh of others, they survived.  Thankfully we don’t need to resort to such drastic measures for our daily survival,.... yet Jesus tells us that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we have no life in us.

Two dimensions of Jewish worship provide the context of today’s Gospel, the fourth part of the “bread of life” discourse in John 6.

John’s discourse about the bread of life in Chapter 6 of his Gospel is his way of dealing with the Eucharist, especially since his Gospel is the only one of the four Gospels that does not include the story of the Last Supper. The story is told in its own way in all four Gospels because each one was written for a different audience. In John’s case, his Gospel was written for the church in Greece approximately 60 years after Christ’s Ascension. At this time in history, the Greeks were leaders in politics, philosophy ideology and culture, so their interpretation was much different than that of the Hebrews, for example.

When an animal was sacrificed on the temple altar, part of the meat was given to worshippers for a feast with family and friends at which God was honoured as the unseen “Guest.”  It was even believed by some that God entered into the flesh of the sacrificed animal, so that when people rose from the feast they believed they were literally “God-filled.”
In Jewish thought, blood was considered the vessel in which life was contained: as blood drained away from a body so did its life.  The Jews, therefore, considered blood sacred, as belonging to God alone.  In animal sacrifices, blood was ritually drained from the carcass and solemnly “sprinkled” upon the altar and the worshippers by the priest as a sign of being touched directly by the “life” of God.

With this understanding, then, John summaries his theology of the Eucharist, the new Passover banquet (remember that John’s Last Supper account will centre around the “mandatum,” the theology of servanthood, rather than the blessing and breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup).
To feast on Jesus the “bread” is to “feast” on the very life of God -- to consume the Eucharist is to be consumed by God.
In inviting us “to feed on his flesh and drink of my blood,” Jesus invites us to embrace the life of his Father: the life that finds joy in humble servanthood to others; the life that is centred in unconditional, total, sacrificial love; the life that seeks fulfilment not in the standards of this world but in the treasures of the next.
In the “bread” of the Eucharist, Jesus shows us how to distinguish the values of God from the values of the marketplace; he instructs us on how to respond to the pressures and challenges of the world with justice and selflessness; he teaches us how to overcome our fears and doubts to become the people of compassion, reconciliation and hope that God created us to be.
In the “bread” he gives us to eat, we become the body of Christ with and for one another; in his “blood” that he gives us to drink, his life of compassion, justice and selflessness flows within us, and we become what we have received: the sacrament of unity, peace and reconciliation.

Monday 10 August 2015

Word Become Bread! Bread Become Flesh!

“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: 

Word Become Bread! Bread Become Flesh!

In this Sunday's 'First Testament' reading from I Kings (19:4-8) we encounter Elijah the prophet on the run. He is running for his life after defeating the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel. His victory and slaying of the priests enraged Queen Jezebel who had brought the priests of Baal to Israel. She swore to kill the holy prophet Elijah. In our section of Kings, we meet Elijah who is at the end of his physical and psychological strength, in of all places, the desert. Not even the beauty of the landscape can comfort him. There in the wilderness he asks for an end to his misery; "Lord, I have had enough! Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." Elijah was God's appointed prophet. He was doing what he was supposed to be doing, faithfully preaching God's Word. Now he is filled with self-doubt. When people experience hard times they sometimes think God is punishing them for doing something wrong. But Elijah did not do anything wrong. He is enduring the usual rejection and threats of violence inflicted on God's prophets. Some endured more than threats and were killed for their faithful service to God. This is happening even in our day.

He thinks or probably more accurately feels, that he is no better than his ancestors but actually this is far from the truth. He is better than his ancestors because we do not find him complaining like the people in today's gospel (John 6:41-51) about the lack of food in the wilderness. Conscious of his own inadequacy as a prophet he entrusts his soul to God. It is a lovely irony that just because Elijah gives priority to the word of God he is able to survive on bread alone. Perhaps ‘survive’ is not quite the right term here. Recent scientific research suggests that regular ‘fasting’, keeping down the number of calories we consume, is actually good for us. It gives the body an opportunity to repair damaged cells and can prevent the onset of cancers or diabetes. If Elijah managed to walk all the way to mount Horeb on a stone baked loaf (this sounds rather good!) and a jar of water that might indicate that he was used to a meagre diet. It would be quite fitting if, without knowing it, the prophet lived a longer and healthier life as a result of self-denial in the service of God.

The fact that an angelic being ministers to Elijah’s very human needs reminds us that there can also be spiritual dangers in self-denial. A failure to respect the body’s needs for food and drink may be a sign of depression or self-loathing. The material and spiritual dimensions of life are inseparable and it can be just as much a temptation to undervalue our bodily nature with its various needs as it is to overindulge it. In the gospel today people are "complaining"–they are ‘murmuring’ just like the Israelites in the desert with Moses–they are not complaining about a lack of food. They are complaining that Jesus seems too ordinary, too perhaps human? "We know his father and mother, How can he say, 'I have come down from heaven'" The problem is not one of communication. Many of them would readily have understood the implications of what Jesus is saying. The giving of manna, the feeding of the chosen people with bread from heaven, was often associated in Jewish minds with the giving of divine teaching. In other words Jesus is clearly giving his teaching a unique status – he sees his own teaching as indispensable and as life-giving as our daily bread. Jesus has declared in his time of trial in the desert, "Humans do not live on bread alone, but on every word that flows from the mouth of God." (Deuteronomy 8:3)

In the wilderness, after praying for death, Elijah falls asleep. Then he has a double-dream theophany. An angel wakes him and provides food for him. We can see where the story is going. Like Israel's sojourn in the desert and when we cannot provide for ourselves, God can nourish us. And that's exactly what God does. The prophet cannot continue on his own, but God nourishes him for the "long journey" that lies ahead. Elijah's problems aren't removed, but God provides what he needs for the next phase of his mission. God has more for him to do. Elijah is given food in the wilderness to strengthen him to walk for; "forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God." On Horeb (or Mount Sinai) God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, another kind of bread for hungry people in the desert. The theme of being fed on physical and spiritual bread are them amplified in today's gospel.

Elijah was not just on a journey he chose for himself. He started out as a fugitive fleeing for his life but after his encounter with the divine messenger his flight becomes a pilgrimage that will take him to a holy place. Isn't that the way life can be for us? We find ourselves in a crisis, or stressed, hardly getting through a day. We cry out for help, when we discover we cannot provide for ourselves. Somehow God visits us in our wilderness, gives us nourishment to continue our life journey. At the end, when we look back on the difficult experience, we realize God was there for us each step of the way. God has not abandoned Elijah, but seeks him out. In our times of weakness, God does not abandon us, but seeks us out. The Elijah story helps us to trust in the gracious provision of God. It is a story of a human who cannot help himself. Which leaves plenty of room for God to move in with bread and water, nourishment to continue the journey.

What Jesus is trying to help his "complaining" listeners understand about "the bread" that he gives it is unlike the manna their ancestors ate in the desert. His bread is a bread that satisfies our true and deepest hunger and gives us life for the new age that he is inaugurating. Jesus doesn't debate with his opponents. If they try to just use their reason they will never get to understand what he is teaching. The crowd are closed to what Jesus is saying to them. Logic does not work for them in their encounter with Christ. The way people come to Jesus is that they are to be "drawn by the Father". Seeing with the 'eyes of faith' is a gift from God. What an opportunity Jesus' hearers have before them! The Father is drawing them to Jesus, but they are resistant. We cannot achieve God on their own, but must be drawn by God, who gives faith. The invitation to believe Christ's teaching is also there for us and all who will listen to Jesus. Do we accept what the religious authorities rejected, "the bread that has come down from heaven?" Our communion this weekend should be an affirmation of faith experience the Bread of Life, the Body of Christ. Amen..