Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Sermon at Parish Mass Trinity 9 2015

Exodus 16.2-4,9-15
Ephesians 4.1-16
John 6.24-35

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “this is the year of Mark, why are we having all these readings from John’s Gospel?” Well possibly there are other questions that may occur to you at this hour on a Sunday, "have I put the oven on", "did I feed the cat"…  But it is at least a question that can be asked.
Mark is the shortest of the Gospels so half way though his year we take a detour for a few weeks to John Chapter 6, a very important passage, central to John’s story, that we wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to think about at Sunday Mass.
Last week we had the first part of John 6: the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on the water. The feeding of the multitude exposed how the disciples were failing to understand Jesus – they wanted to send the hungry people away to solve what they thought was a problem, when Jesus wanted to feed them right there and then. Jesus is where the people are, and that is where the Church needs to be, too.
This week we continue reading John 6 and the problem is reversed. Now the people want to stay in the place where they were fed with physical food, while Jesus wants to lead them on to something greater. They are fixated on the food that feeds only the body and does not satisfy eternally. They have had their fill a few hours before and now they are demanding more. This is a “giving that famishes the craving” as TS Eliot put it; desire that feeds on itself and is never satisfied.
The crowd cite the manna in the wilderness as a sign from God; they want something like that. But that was an ambiguous gift, as we heard in today’s reading from Exodus. Given in response to the craving of the Israelites, they ended up eating it for forty years until they were utterly weary of it to learn that what they craved would never satisfy them.
The only thing that ultimately will satisfy us is God, for whom we were created. “You made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you”, as Saint Augustine said.
God is what we most deeply desire, though we may not realise that beneath the endless loud demands of our famished cravings. God is what we were made for. But how can we receive God so as to be satisfied by Him? How can we attain to God, who is wholly other than the creation, and infinitely above anything we can grasp?
Well it is beyond our power go to God. So God, who wants to satisfy us with himself, came to us. In Jesus the Word was made flesh. The Word is God’s expression and reaching out of himself, which in Jesus joined himself to a human nature like ours. We could not go to God, so God came to us.
In Jesus God emptied himself, as St Paul puts it, adapting himself to our need and our capacity to receive. Even more than we could have imagined or hoped. God has not come simply to meet us in Jesus. He has come to unite us to himself. By baptism we are adopted by grace into the human nature of Christ, and so share in his Divine nature. But that gift is received as a seed to be grown and nurtured. We need to be fed.
In this Gospel passage Jesus introduces himself as the bread of life. He will go on to develop this into the promise of the Eucharist that we will read in the rest of John chapter 6, over the next few weeks.
As he unfolds that teaching what also develops is the scandal and the rejection of the crowd. They are stuck in their famished cravings and unable to move on to where Jesus wants to lead them. They desire only material bread which does not satisfy; they are unwilling to accept that Jesus himself is the bread they must eat to be satisfied eternally.
God wants to satisfy us with himself in Jesus. God wants to discover himself to us as our deepest desire. But for us to discover that we need to believe in the one he has sent, in Jesus Christ. Because it is in Jesus Christ that God has come to meet us where we are, and it is in Jesus Christ that our desire for God will be satisfied.
Faith is needed. The Crowd asks, ‘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.’ The Crowd thinks that the works of God (plural) are about things that will not satisfy such as material food, like the manna in the desert. But Jesus wants them to believe that the work of God (singular) is not what they do but what God is doing in him.
Jesus has come to the people. But the people need to come to Jesus. They need to believe so that they can receive, in Jesus, God’s own self, his divine nature and substance. This is the bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. 
Faith, as the Baptism service says, is the gift of God to his people. Today’s gospel passage tells us how indispensible faith is. It is faith that enables us to go to Jesus and receive in him God himself, who satisfies our deepest and eternal desire. It will be faith that enables us to follow Jesus as he unfolds the teaching and promise of the Eucharist, which scandalizes so many.
The way of faith is the way of trust: trust in the truth of things that we know by nature, and trust in the truth of God that we know by revelation.  
Faith does not of course enable us to say that we know everything. In fact the opposite is true. The further we advance along the way of faith the more we will realise what we do not know. The great Anglican theologian Austin Farrar once said “the opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty”.
Not knowing, but continuing to journey in trust anyway, is absolutely part of the way of faith. It is quite different from the spirit of skepticism, of private judgement, which refuses to follow where the truth leads because we want to stay where we are. That is not faith. That is to prefer the food that perishes, because we can grasp it in our hands, to the food that will satisfy us eternally, for which we have to let go of what we cling to and follow Jesus.
Faith is a gift of God, so let us never cease to ask God for that gift: to establish in us the faith we have, to deepen and strengthen it, to lead us along the way of faith to the fullness of truth, to God himself, who gives himself to us in Jesus to satisfy us eternally.

“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.”

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