Almighty God, who sent your Holy Spirit to be the life and light of your Church: open our hearts to the riches of your grace, that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in love and joy and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Gracious Father, revive your Church in our day, and make her holy, strong and faithful, for your glory’s sake in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Holy Father, who gathered us here around the table of your Son to share this meal with the whole household of God: in that new world where you reveal the fullness of your peace, gather people of every race and language to share in the eternal banquet of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.
Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” ’ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, ‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” ’
In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.
23 So he commanded the clouds above
and opened the doors of heaven.
24 He rained down upon them manna to eat
and gave them the grain of heaven.
25 So mortals ate the bread of angels;
he sent them food in plenty.
26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens
and led out the south wind by his might.
27 He rained flesh upon them as thick as dust
and winged fowl like the sand of the sea.
28 He let it fall in the midst of their camp
and round about their tents.
29 So they ate and were well filled,
for he gave them what they desired.
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,
‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.’
(When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 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. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But 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.
So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’ Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” ’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’
Jesus said to them, ‘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: 24 – 34
Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 10
Our gospel reading is a very difficult one for many. Jesus is asking a probing question about why people believe. By extension, as we read this story, Jesus is asking us why we believe. – So, why do we believe?
Many will tell about the miracles in their lives which have convinced them of God’s grace and reality – the child born, the spouse of their dreams, a cure for an illness. The list can go on, don’t you think? However, the stories from our time are nothing when compared to the miracles of the bible, healings of lame, blind and deaf, feeding five thousand with just two fish and five loaves, turning water into wine, even raising the dead, and yet we still consider all sorts of our own experience as divine manifestations.
But then there are people whose “miraculous” are the disasters which have rendered their lives inexplicable – spouses disappearing, cancer, alzheimers, children dying. There are so many extraordinary things in life that confuse and depress. These experiences can take any joy out of life. So much so that some might think there is no divine providence guiding the path of homo sapiens sapiens.
These are the two poles of human experience, happiness and despair. These are the poles between which we are suspended for the course of our life. We travel between disaster and joy. We have to make sense of this tightrope walk. What do we say to ourselves as we precariously venture above that abyss swinging from one pole to the other? We are like the manic depressive who is exceedingly happy one moment and depressed to suicidal rage at the next moment. We just don’t really understand these things, do we? We are confused by our very real experiences.
How can the one God Almighty, so distant from my life as I live it, intervene in my life with a miracle? How can the all-loving God remove himself and cause, or just let, disaster happen everywhere around me, or visit mayhem upon me? These two questions are part of that continuum in which we find ourselves. We have been thrown into the world and we will orient ourselves towards something. The miraculous is the obvious choice to make because it stands out from everything else in our experience. Either it binds us to something greater than ourselves, or it oppresses us so much that we are crushed by it into nothingness. This is the oldest question of human experience.
Our readings today speak about the miraculous in the life of Israel and at the time of Jesus. The quails and manna are the OT equivalent to the gospel miracles of feeding the five thousand, aren’t they? Both sets of recipients of the miraculous food mistake where it comes from. The Israelites attribute the manna and quail to Moses, the Jews ask Jesus himself for that bread and water everlasting. Neither group thank God for his generosity. They all see the men in front of them as the source of the miraculous. But Moses and Jesus deny themselves as the origin of the sustenance, as they just happen to let the glory of God shine through them. Jesus says in our gospel reading, “this is the work of God” and Paul reminds us that Moses wears a veil because the glory of God was shining in his face and the complaining people of Israel could not bear such a sight.
This is just one of the mistakes people make, isn’t it? That they take something as something else. We do it all the time. We mistake a weed for a flower and, when we let it go to seed, the garden is inundated with plants we don’t want for the next seven years, as the saying goes. We sometimes take the bad for the good and vice versa in our lives, when we might avoid such errors of judgement if we just stopped to think. But we do it all the time. We all know we do, don’t we? We let the everyday rule our ownmost possibility – we enjoy fripperies when the salvation of our souls should be the real aim of our lives. We too often take weeds as the most valuable of flowers.
At the moment the Olympics have taken over. We are looking for wins and medals. That is how we are valuing ourselves. However, there are only three medals available in each of the disciplines. Whether it is on a bicycle or in a canoe, the commentators and everyone at home are wanting a gold medal. In the boxing ring or on the judo tatami, our wish is for our man or woman to land the killer blow – to take out every opponent and be the last one standing. What happens to the competitors lying in the dust?
I am a rather an odd fellow. Rather than the win, I want to see a “beautiful game”. That is my miraculous. Don’t we all want to see the best performance win at the Olympics where the whole world gathers to see the best of the best and where we compete wholeheartedly hoping for the best performance of our lives?
When I was at school playing lacrosse, the coach said the team who played well would win. It was skill and sportsmanship that makes the victory – the score is ephemeral. We live out our sport day by day, like the judoka who has learned from his discipline about life and those lessons contribute to the good life. It is not the win of competition that is the aim. They would rather share with those ’round about them. The aim of the founder of that gentle way was this complete person. He says the judoka learns about the whole of life through training in the discipline of the gentle way, the body is strengthened, the mind is sharpened and wisdom is gained when all are put together. Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, and John Ogden, my lacrosse coach, were of the same mind. If you “cheated” when you played the game, you would be found out by the referee initially and also your opponents, then the crowd watching the match would know. Finally, you would realise it. You would lose your self respect, the most devastating of all losses.
Those life coaches, I would say, were teaching the same message which Jesus and Moses were handing on to their followers – and to us today. Every move we make, every step we take, will be seen against the standard of the best in the sport and life. We play by the rules and do our very best and everyone benefits. New heroes are lifted up and we benefit from their examples. As christians, our hero was lifted up on the cross. What an example we have there! There is no mistaking what is good in that life given for the salvation of all. The rule we follow is our Lord’s, the rule of love.
We can all experience the value of the good in this life for ourselves, because we can live it out, following that rule. We can look toward that miraculous example of the cross which will lift us from any doldrums we may languish in. Christ will raise us out of the abyss we are in danger of falling into.
But we have to see and hear. We have to look to Christ, or to these modern heroes who are living out the best in life for our sakes just as we live our our own lives for others.
We must treat victory and defeat just the same. In other words we follow our rule of life, and live it out, for the rule of our life is its own reward. The miraculous is the everyday life we lead, the miraculous of loving one another and thereby God.
I applaud the Olympic athletes who give a heart-felt smile to congratulate their opponents on the completion of the events – like the woman archer whose arrow missed the mark but she smiled and walked over to her competitor to wish her joy, or Djokovic’s embrace of Zverev when he won so convincingly. I want to be able to do this at every moment of every day in my life. Don’t you? Wouldn’t this be heaven on earth when the beautiful game of life is played to the rule of love?