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16th August - Hugh Perry

Date Given: 
18 August 2015

Readings

1st Kings 2: 10-12, 3:3-14

We avoid the further violence and political manoeuvring to establish Solomon as David’s heir and begin reading with the death of David and his succession by Solomon.   We then skip to the vision of God in a dream where Solomon asks for wisdom and is not only granted that request but his reign is blessed because of the request.

Maurice Andrew notes that in the ancient world stories of dreams answered political ideological questions about the sort of kingship the monarch would have. [1]  

The reading also shows Solomon’s worship as extravagant because the writer wants to make the point that he was a great king.

Further reading of the context of this text tells of Bathsheba’s part in insuring the succession but also Solomon forming alliances through marriage which is as much an act of wisdom as the story which follows this reading.

John 6:51-58

We slip back a verse, beginning this week where we finished last week as the serialisation of John’s communion theology continues and again the audience provide the prompt for the sermon to continue and intensify.

There is no life unless people eat the body and drink the blood of Christ.  It may be helpful in our context to realise that Jews saw blood as the life essence.  That is an understandable position in a society where swords are the main weapon and people witness those cut by a sword bleeding to death.  We understand the resulting death to be caused by lack of oxygen to the brain because there is insufficient blood to carry it but it is easy to understand the first century assumption of blood as the life essence flowing out of a bleeding person.  Therefore we can understand that in communion we metaphorically take the life essence of Christ (everything that makes Christ and everything that lives beyond the death of Jesus) into ourselves and take on the role of being the body of Christ.

Sermon

In his online commentary Bill Loader makes the observation that preaching from John’s Gospel entails working with John’s constant repetition of primary themes.[2]  This has certainly been apparent over the last five Sundays.  This feature of the Gospel offers the opportunity to develop the theological ideas John has presented in different ways and draw them out to make sense from our twenty-first century perspective.  

It is also helpful in drawing this section to a close that we had wee Evelyn’s baptism last week and are celebrating communion this week because those two sacraments are very definitely linked. 

In baptism the immersion into water or the symbolic sprinkling of water confirms our death to our pre-Christ life and the coming out of the water is a new birth as part of the body of Christ.  As Jesus explained to Nicodemus we are reborn to a life in which our bodies are filled with the essence of Christ. (John 3:1-21)  Communion is therefore a metaphorical and theatrical reminder of our baptism. 

However it is important to remember that this whole chapter began with the feeding of the five thousand.  That feeding episode in John’s Gospel replaces the ‘Last Supper’ episode we find in the other three gospels.  Therefore this relationship of communion and baptism, the dying to an old life and emerging into a new life in Christ, plays out in the greater drama of a generous hospitality of sharing. 

We also need to remember that although John’s Gospel is heavily focused on theology and Christian dogma it still carries the social justice agenda we find in Mark, Matthew and Luke.

Hunger was a very real issue for the people of Jesus’ time.  In fact it is only in recent times that the global economy has managed to insulate a section of humanity from the threat of starvation.  In Jesus’ time the Roman Empire had facilitated the amalgamation of farms and forced families off the land they had farmed for generations.  Taxes and tolls meant that in a bad year when crops failed farmers had to borrow and if the next year was also bad they would be forced to sell their farms to repay the loans.  They would then become day labourers who offered themselves for hire in the market place which gave real meaning to the petition in the Lord’s Prayer which asks each day for the bread for that day. 

World commodity markets have the same effect and some of our dairy farmers that have been encouraged by record prices to borrow to increase production and are now faced with the possibility of the forced sale of their land to pay back debt. 

A wry comment I saw the other day suggested that twenty cookies were placed in front of a banker, a worker and a migrant.  The banker took nineteen cookies and warned the worker that the migrant was after his cookie.  The story of the feeding of the five thousand suggests that we are all migrants on a journey and when local resources are shared locally then there is even enough left over for those who are less fortunate. 

However as Jesus’ sermon evolves it becomes clear that there needs to be a spiritual awaking to make such radical caring and sharing possible.  As the liberated slaves in the wilderness fed on the manna on the journey to become the people of God so those who join Jesus on the journey towards becoming the ‘New People of God’ need a spiritual food.  The readers are reminded that it was God who sent the manna in the wilderness and it is God who sent Jesus.  In our reading this morning Jesus repeats that claim as he reminds the readers of the link to the feeding of the five thousand that echoes the manna in the wilderness. 

At the same time Jesus repeats the claim that he is the bread that feeds the new people of God.

Just as the living father sent me, and I live because of the father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died but the one who eats this bread will live forever. (John 6:57 58)

This has undoubted sacrificial overtones and we can see a link to the Passover Lamb which is slaughtered and fed to the slaves about to be liberated.  In such an understanding in a culture of animal sacrifices Jesus becomes the sacrifice to end all sacrifice.  However we must remember Dominic Crossan’s comment. 

My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.[3]

Certainly there was an issue of food for the body in Jesus’ time and place, just as ‘daily bread’ is an issue for people today.  But the minute we refer to a day’s food as ‘daily bread’ we are talking symbolically because there are lots of food we can have instead of bread. 

At the feeding of the five thousand they had fish as well as bread and we all know that if you give a man a fish he will have food for a day.  However if you teach a man to fish he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

When I was small I was allergic to wheat so I never ate bread for years, but I never went hungry.  Of course as a small boy I was always hungry, but I had enough to eat.     

What this chapter of John’s Gospel is telling us is that we need more than just physical food, or ‘daily bread’ to survive.  In fact Jesus is suggesting that if everyone is to have their daily bread then people have to take his teaching on board and live like him. 

This chapter of John’s Gospel is telling us that we have to take the very essence of Christ into ourselves. 

When John began baptising people in the Jordon baptism was part of the ritual for non Jews to become Jews.  Baptism was, and still is, a symbolic act.  The candidate goes under the water and dies to their old life, then re-emerges as a new person. 

As the church adapted that symbolic act we understand it in terms of dying to who we have been and emerging as a new person in Christ.  Our old self is drowned or washed away and we come out of the water as Christ to our world.  In baptism we become Citizens of the divine realm who will participate in generous hospitality, heal the hurts of our world and offer hope for the future—the world to come. 

We can also imagine the symbolism of baptism if we think of a long tramp on a hot day.  We are hot tired and worn down by the journey.  Suddenly we come to a deep pool in a river and leap in.  We emerge from the pool refreshed, renewed, a new person, and ready for the challenges ahead.

Of course because baptism is a symbolic ritual we can do it symbolically so we only sprinkled water on Evelyn’s head last week.  The other important thing to remember is that it is a symbol that is important to us and not a divine requirement.  There isn’t a cloud computer link that with a touch of a wet finger immediately enters a child on the divine database.  However it sometimes seems to take extreme action to get new members on a parish roll so baptism is a reminder for us all that the church is a place of open and accepting hospitality.

We also need constant reminders of our baptism and that is what our communion service is.  Communion is a reminder that we have promised to take the very essence of Christ into ourselves.  To take what made Jesus who he was into ourselves and live as the Risen Christ to others, to make Christ real to our world by being Christ to others.  This is so important, so vital to who we are as Christians that we don’t just read about it or lean about we act it out on a regular basis.

From this sixth chapter of John’s Gospel we take the concept of a shared meal where Jesus took the basic elements of the feast from the small boy, gave thanks and distributed it to all who were seated there.  By symbolically sharing a meal together we remind ourselves of our baptism, our promise to live as Christ in our world.  With bread and drink we regularly and symbolically remind ourselves that we take the essence of what made Jesus who he was into ourselves.  We read the Bible, we meditate, we pray, we reflect on who Jesus was and model ourselves on that image. 

In a symbolic meal shared we renew our baptism promises and take the essence of Christ into ourselves.

We remember Jesus and recommit ourselves to be Christ in our community with no strings attached. 



[1] Maurice Andrew The Old Testament in Aotearoa New Zealand  (Wellington: DEFT 1999),  pp.237.

[3] John Dominic Crossan ‘Who is Jesus? Answers to Your Questions About the Historical Jesus’ www.loukavar.com 

 

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