Monthly Archives: August 2008

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Well, having set up the new blog here on WordPress, I now have two weeks without a computer, so updating may not happen for a little while. I’ll be back soon.

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New Beginning

This is the initial post on my new blog. I am in the process of transferring over from my old Typepad blog. It will take a few days or weeks to import the old posts, change links and stuff, so watch this space.

Sermon For 31st August: Spiritual Health

I won’t be preaching for the next three Sundays, so here is one I’ve prepared for the end of the month.

Matthew 16:21-28

Introduction
Doctors told an American named Craig Boyden, who was just thirty-two, that he was suffering from Crohn’s disease and had three months to live. Perhaps understandably, he decided that if he only had three months, he’d better make the most of them. He went back to his job as a credit manager at a carpet company in Elliott City in Maryland, and embezzled $30,000. He the used the money to live it up – dining in the best restaurants, throwing parties for his friends, buying drinks for everyone in every bar he went into.

But the funny thing was that as the weeks went by, instead of feeling worse and worse he just felt fine, if anything, even better than he had done. So he went to a different doctor for a second opinion. There he discovered that he wasn’t suffering from Crohn’s disease at all, but just a hernia. He’d suffered an allergic reaction to the gloves that the surgeon was wearing during exploratory surgery, and that had led to the misdiagnosis.

But that left him with another problem: the firm had found out that $30,000 was missing. Fortunately for Boyden, when he explained everything, the court was understanding, and gave him a suspended sentence, on condition that he paid the money back at the rate of $5,000 a year.[1]

With sickness, it’s important to recognise and interpret the symptoms, make a diagnosis and from that basis prescribe the appropriate treatment. In our reading today, I want to suggest that Peter is suffering from a sickness of the spirit, even if he doesn’t realise it (at least at first). It’s a spiritual sickness that leads him to misunderstand the will of God. We need a healthy approach to discerning the will of God. Today’s sermon attempts to explore what a healthy approach to finding and following God’s will might look like, based on Peter’s symptoms, Jesus’ diagnosis and his prescription.

1. Symptoms
We find the symptoms of Peter’s sickness in his rebuke to Jesus:

‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ (Verse 22)

We can examine the symptoms by looking at the language Peter uses here.

‘God forbid it, Lord’ is an abbreviated version of a Jewish expression: ‘May God be gracious to you.’ It means, ‘May God mercifully spare you this,’ hence why Peter says, ‘This must never happen to you.’ It’s very emphatic, containing a double negative.

It sounds like Peter thinks he’s being kind to Jesus. In the previous few verses, Peter has confessed that Jesus is the Messiah. Now he seems to say, ‘We can’t let this happen to the Messiah! That isn’t what’s supposed to happen to the Messiah! He’s meant to triumph over the enemies of God’s people, not suffer!’

On this reading, Peter is kind and well-intentioned. He is sincere. We like sincerity. The alternative is hypocrisy, and who wants that? It is common to say in our society, ‘It doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere.’ I once talked to the son of a deceased church member who said he was sure his mum had gone to heaven, because that was what she sincerely believed would happen after death. If you believed something else, then that was what would happen to you. He didn’t pause to consider how illogical this was.

But in any case, sincerity is not enough. Many years ago, there was an inquest held when a person died in a hospital operating theatre after the wrong anaesthetic was administered. The coroner told the anaesthetist, ‘ I believe you sincerely thought you were giving the correct anaesthetic. But you were sincerely wrong, and it cost a life.’

We can be sincerely wrong. Peter was. He had a faulty concept of the Messiah’s mission. Sincerity on its own made him sick. He missed God’s will for Jesus.

And he missed God’s will for himself. Because he could not or would not see that the true destiny of the Messiah would shape his own. If Jesus were to go to the Cross, then the cross shapes the destiny of all disciples.

Now if that’s the case, then Peter’s symptoms may be more than sincerity detached from truth; they may also be about letting personal ambition get in the way of hearing God’s voice. He wouldn’t have been alone among the disciples: in just four chapters’ time, James and John will want preferential seating at the Messiah’s banquet in the kingdom of God. How easy it is for us, too, to baptise our own preferences and ambitions as the will of God.

Our son will keep asking for something, even when we say ‘no.’ When we get to the point of saying to him, ‘It doesn’t matter how many times you ask, the answer will always be no,’ he often replies, ‘But I want you to say yes.’ That can be like our ambitions trying to distort the will of God. We are desperate for the answer that suits us. But God won’t give it – unless he chooses to give us up to our desires, and that’s a worrying development.

Peter, then, displays possibly two dangerous symptoms of spiritual sickness. One is sincerity divorced from truth, the other is the baptism of personal ambition. Do either of these ring bells for us?

2. Diagnosis
When I was a child, we once had a family doctor who was writing the prescription on his pad almost within seconds of a patient entering his surgery. You wouldn’t really say he had a bedside manner.

And neither did Jesus. Peter might have expected affirmation or encouragement in the wake of his statement, but what happens next is this:

But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ (Verse 23)

So much for ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’! Let’s take a moment to think through this devastating diagnosis, that will have crushed Peter by asserting so aggressively that he is against the will of God.

We start with ‘Satan’. It couldn’t be worse, could it? The very least this means is ‘adversary’. Peter, you are not my supporter, you are my opponent, my enemy.

If by ‘Satan’ Jesus doesn’t simply mean ‘adversary’ but the Devil, then we link back to chapter four of Matthew’s Gospel, where the Devil tempts Jesus in the wilderness in order to sidetrack him from the Father’s will. This is what Peter is doing. Rather than correcting Jesus, he is sidetracking him.

And he is a ‘stumbling block’: Peter, the ‘rock’, becomes a ‘rock of stumbling’. It’s the same word Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 1:23 to describe general Jewish offence at the idea of preaching Christ crucified. The Cross is a stumbling block to people finding faith, and Peter is a stumbling block in the way of Jesus going there for the salvation of the world.

Summing Peter up, then, Jesus diagnoses him not as a friend and disciple but as an opponent who wants to sidetrack him from the will of God. He is a serious obstacle to Jesus’ progress in bringing salvation.

Do we ever become the opponents of Christ? Do we get in the way of him fulfilling his purposes? I do. There are times when I don’t like his will. It might be something general from Scripture, like his insistence that the way to glory is through suffering and rejection. I’d rather it came through ease and popularity.

Or it might be that he wants me to do something in particular that isn’t congenial to me. I have been dragged kicking and screaming into his will on some occasions. I have heard him say ‘Yes’ and I have tried to persuade him that he really meant ‘No’. It is by his grace and mercy that he has faced me down as he did Peter, in order to put me in places where I might be fruitful for him.

Being healthy in the life of the Spirit entails saying ‘yes’ to Jesus.

3. Prescription
So how does Jesus set about making a sick Peter healthy? His prescription starts with the words, ‘Get behind me.’ The first thing Peter has to do is clear away the obstacles. Rather than standing in front of Jesus as a rock of stumbling, he should get behind him. How is he to remove the obstacle? By dropping his objection to the Cross. We have to stop seeing the Cross as an offence and embrace it. The path to spiritual health is like the words of the hymn, ‘In the cross of Christ I glory’. Yes, the Cross may lead us to weep for our sins that put Christ there, but we cannot stop with such emotions. Healthy spirituality rejoices in what Christ has done for us.

But ‘Get behind me’ may mean something else, too. ‘Behind’ is the proper place for a disciple. Disciples followed teachers: logically, that meant standing behind them. Jesus is telling Peter that the key to spiritual health and participating in the will of God is in following him – not in debating his words, but in doing them. John’s Gospel records Jesus saying something that sheds light on this:

‘Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own.’ (John 7:17)

It’s no good treating the words of Jesus as theory, or just praising them as the greatest wisdom ever given to the human race. We can’t be bystanders. We need to be what James in his epistle called ‘doers of the word’ (James 1:22). We shall only have spiritual health when we commit ourselves to walking in the footsteps of Jesus.

We see another part of the prescription implied when Jesus tells Peter, ‘you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’ (verse 23). Surely the implication is that we need to set our minds on the things of God. It’s similar to what Paul tells the Colossians:

‘Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.’ (Colossians 3:2-3)

If we want spiritual health, we focus on God’s ways and God’s agenda. When we set our minds on human things or ‘things that are on earth’, we lower our vision and we tend to become self-centred. That is the way of the world, and it is the way of death. It is the approach that says your well-being is defined by your money and possessions.

Jesus is quite explicit in what follows about what constitutes setting our minds on divine things: it means denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following him (verses 24-28). We let the Cross shape our minds, hearts and actions.

When we set our minds on divine things, we are committed to spiritually healthy minds. But it cannot remain theoretical: if the brain doesn’t send signals to the rest of the body, there is something wrong with us. So too in the spiritual life: setting our minds on divine things is accompanied by the signals travelling to our hands and feet so that our cross-shaped thinking is complemented by cross-shaped acting.

Jesus’ prescription for spiritually healthy people who embrace the will of God, then, is to glory in the Cross and put his teaching into practice. This means letting our thoughts and deeds be shaped by a discipleship that is willing to suffer for following Jesus.

Just one last thing to say: I am on two repeat prescriptions from my doctor. We fall into a trap if we think that Jesus’ prescription is a one-off. It’s a repeat prescription. Spiritual health means we keep taking the tablets.




[1] Simon Coupland, Spicing Up Your Speaking, p 221 # 213, adapting Bill Bryson, Bizarre World, p 13f.

Self-Centred Nerds

In February, I said I would be writing an article for Ministry Today under the title, ‘Is Blogging For Self-Centred Nerds?’ Finally, over the last two evenings, I’ve written it. I’ve taken responses from the original article, plus those given when Richard Hall broadcast my appeal. I’ve also quoted from a recent Tall Skinny Kiwi post and taken extensive material from a United Methodist Reporter article written two years ago.

I know, two years ago. So long in webland, and longer in the blogosphere.

I don’t know when the article will be published in hard copy or appear on the Ministry Today website. I’ll let you know.

Thanks to everyone who contributed, either here, at Richard’s blog, or in the other articles without knowing. I’ve linked to just about every blogger I’ve quoted, so if you commented, you’re almost certainly in the piece and hopefully you’ll receive a bit more traffic.

Boring

In recent months, two lads from an unchurched family have been coming to church. One is eleven, the other eight. It started through our weekly craft club and occasional Messy Church events.

We haven’t seen the older brother for some weeks. Yesterday, the eight-year-old told us that big brother wouldn’t be coming to church any more, or to holiday club this week, because he thought church was boring.

He wouldn’t be the first child to think so. Did we fail him when he said he wanted a job doing something at the church on his first Sunday and we said he needed to come for a while before that? I doubt it. Even if we had given him a responsibility, I still think he would have found it all rather boring.

I did at eleven years old, too. I quit Sunday School, because I found it patronising. Mum and Dad let me go over the park and watch Sunday football games, but insisted I came to the evening service – during which time I used to scribble and doodle when it came to the sermon.

I had a worse problem than this in my first appointment. It involved highly unsuitable children’s workers. One problem among many was the way they kept children in Sunday School rather than going in with the adults for the first part of worship, or for all-age services. ‘Don’t go into church,’ the leader told the kids, ‘It’s boring.’ Not the best advert for your church.

However – without justifying any of the actions that leader and two others engaged in – I have to say that I told that story to a fellow minister who for a short while was my confidante. When I told him the ‘Don’t go into church, it’s boring’ line, his reaction was, ‘Well – is it?’ And it probably was.

So what do we do about boring church? Do we look for all sorts of gimmicks in order to make it exciting? Experienced Christians know it isn’t as simple as that. You can’t have excitement every week. You end up with consumer church, where people are attracted or kept by yet more spectacular thrills, as some critics of North American megachurches have pointed out. Doing so makes worship not God-centred but human-centred.

If the Church is the Bride of Christ, then an analogy from marriage may help here. Whatever the joys in the early weeks and months of romance, those feelings come and go, and they cannot be the barometer of a good marriage. (That may be part of what is wrong with what many commentators have called the ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ approach to worship songs.) A permanent high is unsustainable. Life has to be lived, in all its mess. Sometimes, as I recently heard Adrian Plass put it, life is a choice between what you don’t want to do and what you really don’t want to do. That doesn’t make for a thrill-a-minute lifestyle.

So should I look at more creative and stimulating approaches to worship? I’m sure that would be good, but I don’t find that easy. I happen to believe I’m a preacher who gets stuck also with leading worship. Worship leading isn’t really my gift. In any case, good creative worship requires a team of people with different gifts, and it wouldn’t be possible to do that every week. Even if we had the personnel in order to depend on such an approach, it would leave us dependent upon human skills rather than an encounter with the living God.

Am I trying to find some spiritual justification for boredom in church? No. More often than I care to admit, I’m bored myself – not least when I’m conducting the worship! It feels like a problem, because it is a problem.

And the reason I think it’s a problem is this. I just have to read the four Gospels to know the issue. There was something compelling about Jesus when he walked the earth. Either people came to him like filings to a magnet, or they were repulsed by what he said and did. You couldn’t be bored with Jesus two thousand years ago, and if we claim that worship and discipleship constitute an engagement with him today, then church should not equal boredom.

Surely it is a group of people passionately engaged with Jesus Christ whose worship will repudiate boredom without falling into the dangers of sensationalist tricks. Something about that relationship has to be nurtured in our midst.

Three years ago, Christianity Today carried a powerful interview with Eugene Peterson. It was entitled, ‘Spirituality For All The Wrong Reasons‘. Like an eminent consultant surgeon, Peterson showed in the conversation where many others had gone wrong and where instead one should cut for a successful operation. Spirituality isn’t about emotional intimacy with Jesus, but the ordinary stuff of following him. The Gospel shouldn’t primarily be conceived in terms of the benefits we receive, he says: that’s consumerism. Moreover, he says, don’t idealise the church. All our great goals are laudable, but they are slow work. Our impatience leads to manipulating or bullying people, even in the cause of something good.

Towards the end of the interview, he says this:

I think relevance is a crock. I don’t think people care
a whole lot about what kind of music you have or how you shape the
service. They want a place where God is taken seriously, where they’re
taken seriously, where there is no manipulation of their emotions or
their consumer needs.

Why did we get captured by this advertising, publicity mindset? I think it’s destroying our church.

He substitutes reverence for relevance. Is this an excuse for more misery? I heard the call for reverence when I was a young Christian from older Christians whod didn’t like the frivolity, as they saw it, of our lives. True reverence is surely about awe, rather than putting distance and barriers between ourselves and God.

And if we are about engaging with the real Jesus, then reverence of the ‘awe’ kind will be part of the mix. People were awed by what he said and did. So should we be, though truly our familiarity has bred contempt.

But it will also include joy. In yesterday’s sermon I quoted a description of Jesus as a ‘party animal’. Jesus gives us reason for celebration, every bit as much as for reverence.

Maybe both frothy churches and boring churches haven’t engaged that much with the Gospels and their depiction of Jesus. I’m making as much a point as I can of preaching each week from the Lectionary Gospel reading, so that our vision of Jesus can determine everything. (Not that I don’t believe all the Scriptures point to Christ, but perhaps it’s fair to say that the Gospels give us the clearest portrait.) I wonder whether our responsibility is to do all we can to focus on Jesus. That involves our preaching, prayer, Bible study, personal devotions and the spiritual disciplines generally. And when I say the spiritual disciplines, I don’t merely mean a list of devotional habits. They have to translate into the actions of practical piety, or they are worse than useless.

Not that I wish to suggest it’s all down to us. Ultimately, a real encounter with the living God is not about all the good works we do – I’m simply advocating those things that I believe best tune us into him, when done in co-operation with the Holy Spirit. The God of love will in his grace and mercy make himself known on his own terms. But we can stand ready to encounter him.

Fighting Fires

Today, we took the kids to Chelmsford Fire Station’s open day. We had a wonderful couple of hours. There were engines to climb on, platforms to watch as they rose into the sky, fund-raising stalls – not just for their own benevolent fund but for a local cancer charity and Guide Dogs for the Blind. Children could hold a hose with one of the firefighters and put out an imaginary blaze.

But there was also education. A powerful demonstration about dangers associated with leaving a chip pan untended, let alone dousing the fire with water, scared our two as flames suddenly and loudly shot into the air. They also wanted people’s names and addresses if they didn’t have smoke alarms, because they would visit and fit alarms free of charge.

Oh, and I forgot the very reasonably priced hot dogs.

After we left, a metaphor of ministry struck me. Although the fire service is becoming better known for its educational work, such as with smoke alarms, they are better known and more glamorised for fighting fires. Yet the education is just as needed, albeit less spectacular.

Can you see where I’m going? Ministers are often most appreciated for fighting the fires of personal pastoral crises. The ongoing education is less glamorous, and less appreciated for its importance. Tomorrow morning, as many of us preach the Word – for the nth time – we shall be engaging in the unglamorous work that is less often appreciated. I know we shall hear some ‘Lovely sermon, dear’ comments and that one or two will make specific comments. However, some of the best preaching and leadership of Bible Study will be fire prevention work. Some of the crises need not happen if the preventative work is done well and heeded.

Just my thoughts tonight. Have a good Sunday.

Tomorrow’s Sermon: Transformation – Bread, Fish, People

Matthew
14:13-21

Introduction
There are several bizarre local laws on the statute books in America:

·
For instance, it’s illegal to slurp your soup in
a restaurant in New Jersey.

·
In Oklahoma it’s unlawful to get a fish drunk,
or to try to catch whales in a river or lake.

·
In Pennsylvania, cafés are not allowed to sell ring
doughnuts, while in Massachusetts they are not permitted to serve coffee to
babies.

·
In Lexington, Kentucky, you cannot carry an
ice-cream cone in your pocket.

·
In Waterloo in Nebraska, barbers are prohibited
from eating onions between seven o’clock in the morning and seven in the
evening.

·
Finally, the most ambitious law must be the one
in Kirkland, Illinois, where bees are forbidden from flying over town![1]

Well, so long as no one bans the consumption of apple pies
in Chelmsford, at least one member of this congregation will be happy!

Food. Lots of it. More than enough for five thousand men,
plus women and children. What are we to make of this miracle? It was so
important to the Gospel writers that it’s the only miracle to appear in all
four Gospels apart from the Resurrection.

But what do we make of the story? We can debate whether the
miracle happened. I say it did. If all that really happened is that a crowd of
people was inspired by Jesus to share their packed lunches, I doubt that four
evangelists would have recorded it.

But we have to get beyond basic issues like that. Because as
well as the transformation of the bread and the fish, we find in this story
three transformations of the human heart.

First Transformation

If I know anything as a father of young children, it’s about that sense of
permanent tiredness. I have a particular low point around 6:30 to 7 pm each day
that coincides with bath and bedtime for them. Debbie will tell you how I drift
off, almost to sleep, while we are in the bathroom with them. Sometimes the joy
of getting the monkeys into bed reinvigorates me, sometimes it doesn’t.

Jesus appears to be tired in this reading. He has just heard
the news of John the Baptist’s execution. It has had some kind of draining
effect upon him. He wants to withdraw. But the crowds come, and he responds by
healing people.

The disciples may not be tired, but they are certainly
stressed. They want to send the people away for food, because they can’t cope –
not with just five loaves and two fish at their disposal. But Jesus tells them
to give – just as he gave to the crowds when they ruined his plans for some
quiet time.

Jesus was drained. The disciples were impotent. Yet this was
the time to give. This is the first transformation of the heart – people
apparently with nothing give what they have, and God does something miraculous.

In fact, God does something extravagant with limited giving.
Food for thousands, with doggy bags to spare.

In fact, the American Methodist bishop Will Willimon believes
that this extravagant giving is characteristic of Christian discipleship. He
says it’s why we make such big promises to each other in our wedding vows. It’s
why a friend of a friend of mine, who has a PhD in Theology from Aberdeen
University, returned to his native India, where he runs a ministry that
provides children’s homes for orphans. He could have a flourishing and
rewarding academic career in the West, but he lavishes Christian love on these
children.

After all, it’s just what Jesus talked about in his
parables. The father bestowed this same extravagant love on the prodigal son
when he returned. It’s the generosity of the Good Samaritan in paying the bills
of the injured man.

Why should God choose to use those who are weak and weary,
who feel they have nothing left to give, in order to give lavishly? Perhaps
these are situations that God deliberately wants to place us in: when we are
drained of our strength, we have no option but to trust in his power, rather
than taking pride in our own gifts.

Perhaps you’re wacked out. You feel the need for a rest. And
maybe that’s right. But if God puts some people across your way at such a time,
don’t be afraid to give. God might be setting you up for something quite
miraculous to happen in the lives of those who cross your path. God is like
that. The first transformation, then, is in giving.

Second Transformation

In the wake of the Chelmsford Christian
Festival
, some ministers have received a nasty, critical letter from some
extreme Christian organisation somewhere in Essex. I haven’t received one: I’m
probably beyond salvation as a Methodist! But Baptist, Anglican and URC
ministers have all received this letter damning the festival, for – amongst
other things – its emphasis on fun. ‘Did Jesus die on the cross for us to have
fun?’ asks the letter.

You wonder how selectively such people read the Gospels if
Jesus is comprehensively associated with misery. Jesus was, in the words of one
scholar, a ‘party animal’[2].
A glutton and a drunkard, his opponents called him.

Now put that into this story. We might be grateful for a
‘party animal’ to provide a lot of food, but it wasn’t so simple for devout
Jews, however much they enjoyed feasting (and they did). Their maxim was, ‘You
are what you eat’ – not in the sense of diet and nutrition, but in the sense of
wanting to ensure they ate proper kosher food.

There were only two ways to ensure your host prepared kosher
food. One was to go into the kitchen and watch every step of the process.
However, they could hardly have done that in this circumstance: there was no
kitchen to enter! The crowd doesn’t know where this food comes from!

That leaves the second option: trust. That’s what the crowd
does. They trust Jesus. A miracle like this, happening in a deserted place, had
considerable overtones for a Jewish group: it would remind them of the manna in
the wilderness. Is this the ‘one greater than me’ whom Moses prophesied would
come?

Then, there are messianic overtones in the text. When Jesus
tells them to ‘sit down’ in the text, we just have a vision of the people
sitting around on the grass. What he actually tells them to do is ‘recline’,
which carries connotations of a banquet. Who would provide a banquet in the
wilderness? The Messiah would.

Not only that, it’s a miracle involving the forces of
nature. Is there something divine at work here?

Put that all together and it becomes quite a big picture of
whom the people might be trusting here.

And for us, we take heart here: this is not just a
trustworthy person, this is the Messiah, this is even God Incarnate who is
trustworthy, even in extreme situations.

So where is it we feel stretched? Jesus is trustworthy. Let
him give us energy. Where do we feel weak? Let Christ give us strength. Where
are we hungry? We can look to him to feed us. He is able. By virtue of who he
is, he has the ability, the resources and the love to provide all we need. And
if he can do all this for us, what is stopping us trusting him with our lives?
The second transformation is in trusting.

Third Transformation
To understand the third transformation that happens in this famous story, we
need to return to the question of how the crowd might have used their Jewish
traditions to come to terms with what happened.

Not only did the tradition hold the stance I described a few
minutes ago of ‘You are what you eat’ in terms of keeping to the kosher laws,
they also took a similar attitude. You could call it, ‘You are who you eat with.’
On the surface, this is another matter of purity. Not only must the food be
prepared in a ritually pure way, you must also keep yourself from contamination
by association with the wrong kind of people. Not only were people known by the
company they kept, they could be spiritually tainted by contact with defiled
people.

Now see a problem. The bread and fish come from the
disciples to Jesus, back to the disciples and then out from person to person.
Who knows what kind of person might have handled that food at some point in the
process? That’s more than a question of hygiene; it’s a matter of honour: what
if by eating this I associate with an unworthy person? I am reduced to their
status.

But in this miracle, all these distinctions between morally
superior and inferior people are cast to the four winds. In the work of Jesus,
there is an acceptance across boundaries and divisions. It is a foretaste of
what would happen when the Gospel broke out beyond Jewish borders and reached
Gentiles, and after much agonising the baby church realised that all who were
in Christ were one.

So here is a basis for unity. Good and bad, rich and poor,
black and white, female and male, weak and strong, powerful and oppressed.
Under Christ, all may be made one. It isn’t simply that we are one, because we
are all human, because sin has caused our divisions and that sin must be
addressed. Which it is in Christ and his cross.

But this gives us the motive for reaching across boundaries.
It means that serious questions have to be asked about churches where everyone
is from the same background. It means that if we live the faith at this point –
not that we have any option – then the church will be a prophetic sign to a
divided, broken world.

Where, then, is Jesus calling us to live out this third
transformation of the heart, the transformation of reconciliation and unity? As we share in The Peace with one another
in a few minutes’ time, to whom else will we want to offer the peace of Christ
who is not part of our body?

Conclusion
So – I find it sad when Christians reduce the feeding of the multitude to
saying that Jesus just enabled people to share their picnics. Such an account
is barely worth inclusion in the Gospels.

But I am also disappointed when we don’t get beyond
defending the reality of the miracle. There is so much Jesus accomplishes here
as he transforms people through the action of the miracle. We may not be coming
to a feast, but to a table where small squares of bread and sips of grape juice
symbolise the coming banquet of the Messiah.

Might it be, then, that as we come to the Lord’s Table this
morning, he might work his transforming power in us:

·
That we might be able to give, even when we have
nothing;

·
That we might trust Christ to feed us in every
way;

·
And that the unity we find in him might spur us
on to be reconciled with one another, and across the divisions in our world.


[2] John Dominic Crossan – not
someone I usually agree with! I owe this quote – and the inspiration for the
second and third transformations in this sermon – to a
sermon on this passage
by Sarah
Dylan Breuer
.

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