Sermon - Sunday, 12 August 2018

The following sermon was delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Russell Barr on Sunday, 12 August 2018.

Scripture: Ephesians 4: 25 – 5: 2 / John 6: 35, 41-51

Text: Jesus declared, I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty                                   (John 6: 35)

IN THE NAME OF GOD, FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT, AMEN

One bright Monday morning, retired from his work in the shipyard, my Ardrossan grandfather was pottering about in his garden.

A face appeared over the front hedge.

It was the local parish minister.

The two men greeted one another.

Didn’t see you in church yesterday remarked the minister.

In fact my grandfather hadn’t been to church for many years.

His wife had died in her late 40s when a fish bone stuck in her throat and turned septic – it was the days before antibiotics – and he was left with three teenage children, my father being the youngest.

Sadly the minister made a mistake about the day and time and so didn’t turn up to conduct my grandmother’s funeral service.

If it is every minister’s nightmare, you can also imagine the hurt caused and my grandfather had long got out of the habit of going to church.

So when the minister popped his head over the hedge and remarked he hadn’t seen my grandfather in church, apparently my grandfather replied,

Why, was there something special on?

Although I would want to say that every Sunday morning at Cramond Kirk is a special Sunday and there is always something special on, truth to tell this is a very ordinary service on a very ordinary Sunday.

Of course I am aware there will be people in the congregation for whom there is something special about today.

There may be someone in church today for the first time, or the first time in a long time, wondering if the church and its gospel might have something to say to them.

There may be someone in church today who has a problem to resolve or a decision to make and is hoping that something in the service will bring them God’s direction and counsel.

Whereas one family has come to celebrate their child’s baptism, there may well be someone here today who is trying to pick up the threads of life again after the breakup of a relationship and there will certainly be people in church today coming to terms with the loss of someone they love and who are seeking God’s gifts of comfort and peace.

So let me acknowledge that for some people special reasons will have brought them to church this morning – yet could that not be said of every Sunday service?

Within the calendar of the Christian year this is not one of the high and holy days – Christmas, Easter, Pentecost.

It is not even one of the recognised seasons of the Christian year – Advent or Lent, Harvest or Remembrance.

In fact within the Christian calendar this is the 12th Sunday after Pentecost – as Michael Caine might say - not many people know that!

So in every respect this is a very ordinary Sunday service and a very ordinary act of public worship – quite simply there is nothing special on – and that is just the point - the everyday ordinariness of the Christian faith and the very ordinariness of this morning’s service.

I want to dispel the notion that God is only to be found in special places – and the life and worship of the church is only for special people – and the hopes and promises of the Christian faith are to be kept for the special things in life.

Nothing could be further from the truth – and as we read about it in the Bible, it is the very ordinariness and everyday nature of God’s concern which gives faith its appeal, an ordinariness evident in what Paul said to the people of Ephesus about their everyday conduct and equally evident in Jesus’ claim to being the bread of life.

I am the bread of life.

Whoever comes to me will never go hungry

and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty

You’ll remember in the majestic opening to his gospel John makes the dramatic assertion that God’s Word became flesh……………and came to live among us.

Just exactly what it means for God to live among us becomes one of the defining themes of John’s gospel.

As he describes more and more about both the person and life of Jesus of Nazareth, John wants his readers to discern the dying and undying love of God’s nature and purpose being revealed in all its grace and beauty.

Yet paradoxically it is a grace and beauty more often than not revealed in the ordinary and everyday than in the special and holy.

And so it is both significant and not in the slightest surprising that the first real indication of Jesus as the Word made flesh - God living among us - comes not in the magnificence of Jerusalem’s temple, nor at one of the great festivals of Israel’s religious tradition, but at a wedding ceremony held in the village of Cana in Galilee.

As water is transformed into wine we are given a glimpse of something different, something special and holy about Jesus - but it is a holiness discerned in the happy celebration of a wedding reception.

And now in the long discourse about the bread of life, a discourse which begins the miracle of Christ feeding the 5000, we see again that Jesus choosing the uncomplicated things of this world - bread, water, wine, fish – to reveal something of God’s presence and promise.

The story is familiar; of the crowd who spent the day listening to Jesus’ teaching, of the disciple Andrew finding a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, of Jesus blessing the food and of the crowd being so well fed such that twelve baskets of crumbs were left over.

Is the miracle best explained as the miracle of generosity with the crowd inspired by the boy to share what they had with their neighbour?

If some scholars think so others, like the late William Temple, had no doubt that a miracle occurred.

If the Lord was indeed God incarnate, the story presents no insuperable difficulties, Temple declared.[1]

And that is John’s claim, that Jesus is God incarnate, God living among us, a quite extraordinary claim………… and made more extraordinary by its being revealed in the ordinary and everyday things of life.

A walk along the River Almond, a glorious sunset at the end of a summer’s day, watching a mother bird feed her young, the taste of the first tomato from your greenhouse, a meal with some friends, a barbecue on the beach, sitting with a cup of coffee and a good book, a particular symphony or operatic aria, sinking a long putt, a child reaching out to take her grandfather’s hand……….. if it is true that some of the simple things in life often give the most pleasure, it is also true that Jesus drew on many of the simple things of life to speak about the kingdom of God.

He saw a farmer scattering seed, he noticed a shepherd leading out his flock and a woman putting her offering in the treasury box, he pointed to a vine with its spreading branches, he told stories about a man being robbed on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, of something as small as a mustard seed making a great difference  - and beginning with the ordinary, familiar and everyday things of life, Jesus pointed to the extraordinary presence and promise of God which lies at the heart of all things.

George MacLeod, founder of the Iona Community, was someone who had a profound sense of the holy at the heart of life.

In one of his prayers MacLeod asks God to

(s)how us in everything we touch and in everyone we meet the continued assurance of Thy presence round lest ever we think Thee absent.

In all created things Thou are there.

In every friend we have, the sunshine of Thy presence is shown forth.

In every enemy that seems to cross our path, Thou are there within the cloud to challenge us to love.

And as the prayer draws towards its conclusion, MacLeod continues;

Awake for us Thy presence in every storm till all our joys are seen in Thee and all our trivial tasks emerge as priestly sacraments of the universal temple of Thy love.[2]

So on this very ordinary Sunday – a Sunday with nothing special on – whatever reason brought you to church and whatever awaits you in the coming week, be assured God’s concern, care and love will be evident in the ordinary things, the so called trivial tasks, as you discover to your joy the simple things of life transformed by the presence and promise of the One who is the bread of life. 

Now unto him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen

 


[1] A M Hunter, The Cambridge Bible Commentary: the gospel according to John, Cambridge University Press, London, 1965, p63

[2] George MacLeod The Whole Earth shall cry Glory ed Ron Ferguson, Wild Goose Publications, 1985, p13