Friday, 21 August 2009

Hard sayings and compassion

Lord to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life. John 6:68
The words of Simon Peter to Jesus when he asked his disciples if they too found his road too hard to follow.
There is so much in the teachings of Jesus that is difficult. So much that simply goes against the grain.
In this passage in John 6, Jesus seems to be quite brutal with those around him- like a man running out of patience. I often find myself getting to the stage of wanting to scream at folk: so what part of (whatever) do you not understand? Often, when things seem perfectly simple and straightforward to us, we lose patience with those who just can't seem to "get it". This passage smacks to me of a man at the end of his tether. A man wanting to scream: "OK What part of x, y or z don't you get?"
He's laid it all out from the beginning, drip feeding all along the way. And still they don't get it.
Folk are dropping out, getting tired of the campaign trail. But even those who stick around are floundering in a sea of confusion.
The words I have spoken to you bring God's life-giving spirit, yet some of you do not believe.
John 6:63,64
And we certainly do not fare any better.
What does Jesus feed us?
What is this bread of life teaching?
How can we understand and follow through on ideas that go against natural instincts, years of teaching and our inherent sense of human justice?
In this passage, filled with even more incomprehensible ideas - bread of life, life giving spirit, I believe that Jesus is, in the most loving of ways having a last gasp attempt at facilitating understanding for his disciples. In this passage Jesus is acknowledging first and foremost how hard his teachings are, how difficult the path to follow. But, in recognition of that sheer difficulty, Jesus throws out a lifeline: Stick by me. Let me continue to feed you. Let me live in you and then you'll manage the journey.
Jesus is fully aware of how hard it is for us to live as he calls. Jesus is aware of how hard it is for us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us. Jesus knows that betrayal lives in his midst and in our midst. Jesus does not underestimate the difficulties. Nor does he let us off the hook. But he is, at the same time, assuring us that we don't have to go it alone.
The hardness of Jesus' way, I think, was illustrated all too poignantly this week in the release of the Lockerbie Bomber. (I'm reluctant even to use his name because of my feelings for the atrocity of the crime for which he was convicted) It seems that justice is scantily served by dying in a prison on foreign shores. That doesn't even come close. But the justice that Jesus teaches is one gilded with compassion. A justice that reaches into the very depths of our humanity and dredges up love. That's an enormously tall order.
A justice that ignores the debate about innocence or guilt. A justice that sees beyond the tragedy of families torn apart forever. A justice that, in love and compassion, sees a dying man and returns him to his own kith and kin. A justice that meets evil head on and rises to the challenge, countering evil with love. THAT'S the hardness of Jesus' teaching and of Jesus' way. And it's a justice that also ignores the hero's welcome that this perpetrator of evil was shown when he returned to home shores, riding shoddily over the feelings of all those affected by that act of terrorism over 20 years ago.
Jesus' way calls for us to embrace ALL these hard things.
Of course it is.
Unless we have Christ living within us, providing life changing nourishment from the inside out.
And even then... even then...
Its a hard way to follow.
Lord to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.
There is simply no way we can live the kind of love and compassion to which Jesus calls us unless we are being "worked from within" enabling us to make those "tough choices" that have to be made, choices that go against the grain, choices, however that change the world and allow us to model compassion and practice love as God intended.
The words of Jesus dwelling in us, nourishing us, changing us beyond all recognition.
There is no other way.
Christ has those words of eternal life.
Those words that can change us - from the inside out.
Lord, to whom shall we go?

Tuesday, 18 August 2009


Reflecting on this week's gospel - John 6: 56-69

Do you too want to give up?

I tried to tell you it wouldn’t be easy.
No illusions.
I did warn you.
It’s good to have fun.
It’s good to mess about.
But when it gets down to the nitty gritty.
It’s hard.
Really hard.
So this is your get out.
This is the time to leave the coach.
Do it now.
Because it just gets messier and messier.
No let up.
You think there have been “awkward moments” along the way?
You aint seen nothing yet.
Discipleship isn’t about all the good times – though there are loads of those
But discipleship is a huge endurance test
Discipleship means getting mired in all the hard stuff – and sticking right with it.
So what do you think?
Are you up for it?
Can you cope with the cost alongside the rewards?
Do you like rollercoasters?
This is what its all been leading up to
All the signs and wonders
All the upsetting of apple carts.
It wasn’t just some grand kicking over the traces
It was all leading to this point
This point of decision
In or out
Move on or drop back
That’s where it’s at

All along the way I’ve given you hints
At every step I’ve tried to prepare you
Provided bread for the journey
For nurture and growth
Soft bread when you needed it
Now it’s time for the molly coddling to stop
Time for you to show your mettle
What I can promise though is- that what I’ve given
– and continue to give
is enough
I won’t leave you floundering
Won’t leave you high and dry
I am the real deal
Believe me
You have it in you
I wouldn’t ask you otherwise
But you have to step up to the mark
Decide whether you’re in or out
It’s time to take all that you’ve learned so far
And put it to good use
Time to make sense of the journey
And decide whether you’re up for more
I know you can do it – I wouldn’t ask you otherwise
But it’s time now to use all that I’ve given you so far
To take you forward on a road less travelled
To take you off the main drag
And forge new ways and new paths
Using all the skill you have

Deep down you know all this makes sense
You know you couldn’t just carry on regardless
That, at some point, there’d be a cost
And this is it
Are you with me?
Or have you had enough
Do you trust me?
Really trust me?
Do you believe that I can get you through the tough bits that are ahead
Are you willing to throw in your lot
Or would you rather just cut and run.
I’m moving on with all the hard stuff
I want you to be my disciple
But I’m telling you it won’t be easy
So- are you still with me?

(Liz Crumlish 2009)

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Cause for indigestion?

Reading: John 6: 35, 41-51

You are what you eat.

After a week spent 3 minutes walk away from the most amazing ice cream shop I’ve ever found, I should resemble , by now, a caramel fudge single nougat!

You are what you eat.

So what would you be?

Any suggestions?

We all know there are certain foods that just aren’t good for us.

Certain foods, usually the ones we like best of all, that we shouldn’t consume in vast quantities.

But, really – You are what you eat?

Can that be true?

Today, I’d like to suggest that, in a very positive way, we ARE what we eat – or we can be.

Jesus said: I am the bread of life.

Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

What would it mean – for us – and the folk around us if we took Jesus seriously.

If we took him up on his offer of the bread of life.

I’m sure many of you here this morning would say that we do take Jesus seriously in his offer of the bread of life.

We rely on him for sustenance as we go about our daily business.

Daily bread for daily living.

But how about taking that a step further.

Fed by God.

How does that feeding affect the way we live?

I came across a priest this week, by the name of Ron Rolheiser who links Jesus offer of the bread of life to the initiation rite of God’s prophets.

Rolheiser says:

When Israel’s great prophets are called, God initiates them through an interesting ritual.

They are asked to physically eat the scroll of the law, to eat their scriptures.

What powerful symbolism!

The idea is that they should digest the word and turn it into their own flesh so that people will be able to see the word of God in a living body rather than on a dead parchment.

The task of taking God to others is not that of handing somebody a Bible or some religious literature, but of transubstantiating God, the way we do with the food we eat.

We have to digest something and turn it, physically, into the flesh of our own bodies so it becomes part of what we look like.

If we would do this with the word of God, others would not have to read the Bible to see what God is like, they would need only to look at our faces and our lives to see God.

Transubstantiation – now there’s a word we steer away from in the Presbyterian church.

But, this morning I don’t want us to get sidetracked by communion theologies.

It would be easy, with this morning’s gospel to focus on the sacrament of communion – to focus on the broken body of Jesus and the way we remember Jesus’ sacrifice by breaking bread together.

This morning, let’s focus on Jesus as whole – offering us his whole self as the bread of life.

You are what you eat.

That takes that phrase into a whole new arena.

Jesus the bread of life.

If we are to take that seriously.

If we are to feast on that living bread, then the transformation in us would be so great that others would be able to see, reflected in us, the love and the wonder of God.

Isn’t that an awesome thought?

You and I, by regularly feasting on God and on God’s word, by taking that bread of life that Jesus offers us, by not just surface feeding but by digesting that bread of life, will be so changed that, rather than just being able to talk the bread of life, we would live the bread of life.

And, dare I say it, we would become the bread of life, able to offer others what Jesus offers us.

Yesterday, I had breakfast in a coffee shop, just a couple of doors along from the wonderful ice cream shop.

For breakfast, I had a bread tin.

It WAS a bread tin ( a 1lb loaf tin) filled with lots of different sorts of bread:

There was cinnamon bread and soda bread, some French bread, a croissant, some chocolate bread, some seeded bread – all mouth wateringly delicious

Given another week, I might have turned into a bread tin instead of an ice cream.

But, knowing that we were on our way home and knowing that this reflection needed some work, I got to thinking about varieties of bread.

And the possibility of so many varieties from very simple basic ingredients.

I am the bread of life, said Jesus.

From that basic ingredient, the bread of life, God enables us to eat, digest and be transformed in so many different ways so that we can change the world by sharing the changes that God has wrought in us.

There’s no one way of doing that.

Our digestion works in different ways, at different stages, at different speeds.

But, however and whenever the bread of life transforms us, it is our task to enable that transformation in others.

Jesus the bread of life.

Transforming you.

Transforming me.

Together – you, me and Jesus – transforming the world.

Jesus said: I am the bread of life.

Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.