This week Rev. Kathryn talks about how God supports us in our everyday lives.
When I was on a course recently I had to do an exercise where I had to put down what I did in a typical week and which parts I tended to put off.
I think we’re all guilty of putting off doing the things we enjoy least and for me that is the times I spend in the office, doing paperwork, sitting in front of the computer answering emails and trying to be organised. The bits I enjoy are the visiting and meeting people and being involved in weddings, baptisms and funerals. We seem to have quite a few baptisms this summer and I’m looking forward to taking 6 or 7 weddings in the coming weeks.
Conducting a Baptism or a wedding is the lovely part of being a priest. People say to me that funerals must be the downside of the job but although you could never say you enjoy a funeral it is a great privilege to be involved with families at this very important and difficult time in their lives. I suppose that part of the problem with funerals, and with all sacramental services for that matter, is that they cant help but bring back our own memories of such occasions. When we hear a couple making their wedding vows we remember when we made our wedding vows (which is hopefully a positive memory). When we baptise a child we remember (well, not our own baptism I suppose) but certainly when had our own children baptised or maybe we remember the baptisms of our brothers and sisters. And certainly, when we participate in a funeral, we remember people dear to us who have died.
You hear people say at funerals ‘at least they are free from pain. THey have gone to a better place’, and for the most part I think that we do believe that this is true. But somehow it doesn‘t really make the occasion any less painful! And I think that’s because it’s not really the fate of the departed soul we mourn. We mourn what we’ve lost.
What do we lose?
At one level it’s a hundred little things: the way we used to do the crossword together, the way he used to tell jokes around the dinner table, the apple pies she used to bake, the stories he used to tell about the war…. all those things. And yet at another level it’s none of those little things but just one thing that we miss so much.
We miss THEM. We miss their presence with us.
‘Presence’ – it is the basic building block of all meaningful human relationships, and it is what we grieve for when we lose someone close to us. It is the most basic gift that we have to offer one another and, I think it is also the key to understanding John chapter 6.
In John chapter 6, Jesus is talking about bread and flesh and food and blood and at one level it might all seem a bit of a riddle.
The scene begins with that wonderful miracle where 5000 men, plus women, plus children are fed from a few small loaves and fishes – a miracle that makes Jesus so popular that the whole crowd wants to make him king!
The scene ends though with that same group of people walking away from Jesus in disgust, thinking that he’s crazy. And the thing that brings about this transformation in their attitude is the discussion Jesus has with them about bread.
‘You’re only hanging around because I fed you’, says Jesus. “Work not for the bread that perishes” he says, “but for the bread that endures for eternal life”. .
“I am the bread”; Jesus says. “I am the bread that came down from Heaven! The bread that I give for the life of the world, is my flesh”.
And when the people cant understand this and find it a bit offensive, Jesus just pushes the point further: ‘My flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed’. And at this point the majority of the hangers-on that day decide that they have had enough. They leave, never to return.
In his Gospel John uses a lot of metaphors and if we take them literally we will misunderstand what he was trying to say.
Jesus regularly spoke in metaphors and He was regularly misunderstood.
In chapter 3, for instance, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, and Jesus says to him, ‘You must be born again’, but Nicodemus misunderstands him, and thinks he is talking about being reborn to his mother all over again!
In chapter 4, Jesus meets a woman at the well, and He tells her that ‘she who drinks of your water will thirst again’, and offers her ‘living water’ instead, but she thinks he‘s talking about some underground spring that he‘s found.
And again in chapter 6, where Jesus is dealing with a whole crowd of people, He says to them, ‘work not for the bread that perishes, but for the heavenly bread that endures for eternal life’, but the crowd thinks that he’s talking about some special health food, similar to that which Moses gave them back in the days of old, except that it doesn’t go off – a super-organic-health-bread-concoction perhaps, that has all the wonderful benefits that those health drinks you’ve read about on the Internet are supposed to have for you. ‘He who eats of this bread will live forever!’
Jesus says, ‘NO!
I am the bread!
My flesh is the food.
What you need is not some new form of organic biscuit. What you need is ME!’
It’s His presence that we need – not just His wisdom, not just his teachings, not just the memories of all the good times we spent together – but His presence!
What we really need in this life is the presence of Jesus with us. As significant his miracles, and teaching might be what we need is Him – his flesh, his blood, his real presence with us.
This is what Nicodemus didn’t understand when he came to see Jesus. He thought he needed wisdom, insight, and a better understanding of God’s law. ’No’, said Jesus, ‘what you need is to be born from above! What you need is to have the Spirit of God within you!’
And it’s the same thing the woman at the well couldn’t grasp. She knew she needed water to live, but Jesus tells her, ‘No, it’s not physical water that you need, but the presence of the Spirit of God living within you that you need.
After that amazing miracle, the crowd came looking for bread, but Jesus tells them, ‘It’s not ordinary bread that you need. You need the living bread. You need the presence of the living God in your life. You need to move beyond ‘me’ to ’we’! You need my flesh and blood within you. You need ME within you!’
Like Nicodemus, like the woman, like the crowd, I think that most people who turn up to church out of the blue are looking for one of two things: they are looking for answers or they’re looking for a miracle!
It could be that someone they love is really ill and they need healing, or they have lost someone very close to them and they need to make sense of it! And the hard thing from the priest’s point of view is that we’re often not able to deliver either!
We pray for miracles, as we pray for wisdom, but we know full well that sometimes the miracles just don’t happen, and sometimes things just won’t make sense!
What we can always offer people though, and what we can always guarantee for people who come genuinely searching, is that Christ will give to them what he told us is far more important than either a miracle or an explanation – He will give them His presence if they are open to it.
No we can’t always guarantee the healing and we can’t always guarantee the explanation, but we do know that He will always do that which He has always promised to do – which is what we most need Him to do. “Lo, I will be with you always’. He has promised to be with us, His presence with us, His body and His blood within us!
This is the essence, I believe, of John Chapter 6.
We can have Jesus with us at ever part of our lives. The Holy Spirit wants to be involved in every part of our lives.
It probably shouldn’t surprise us that God works this way, because all significant relationships work like that. It’s what we need most from the people who are close to us in our lives. This is what is so hard about losing someone you love, and why I still find funerals so hard.
And it is at the heart of our ministry – what we offer our community. We offer Christ.
It’s the gift that what we offer each other this morning here in church – it is Christ.
I read about a school which, in the week leading up to Father’s day, invited the dads of the children to come into school into their childrens’ classes. Of course there were a lot who couldnt come on a working day. So each child in the class got up to say something about their fathers. My father is a doctor one boy said, and he is a very important man. My father is a solicitor another child says, and he makes a lot of money. Finally it came the turn for one young boy whose father was unemployed.
“My dad”, he said very proudly, “is here!”
It’s not the wisdom. It’s not the miracles. It’s not the things about Christ that we need the most. It is Christ – God with us – His flesh, His blood – food and drink indeed – abiding in us. And as we come shortly to share communion we remind ourselves that God isn’t remote and cut off from our lives and our problems this morning – no, he is here with us and wants to continue to be part of our lives in this coming week and for always.
The Lord be with you!
(and also with you?)