Thoughts from a place of rest in John’s Gospel

…August is usually a time of holiday and rest for many people, and in churches a lot of programmes get put to one side for a few weeks.  However much of the life of our communities still goes on, even if we’re not formally organising things- meeting people in the street or a cafe still happens, there is still sickness and death, work still causes stress, babies are born and there are explosions of joy all around us- and none of it is planned.  This week I’ve been taking some holiday- actual holiday rather than going to a conference or pastoring at a festival, and so haven’t been online in the same way as usual. I won’t pretend I took a fast from the internet and technology as I’ve been checking the weather, looking up things for the family and playing more Nintendo than in the previous 3 months… and despite the English summer the family have managed a bike ride, a sailing trip, overnight camping (with a fire!) and a hike on the moor… and now I’m back to work today, prepping for tomorrow and things next week.

In the meantime, here’s the script for what I preached last Sunday morning- as usual the text won’t match the audio recording here but you can have fun playing spot the difference. This passage from the end of John chapter 6 comes after various miracles and in the midst of a long teaching discourse- it doesn’t feel as though Jesus is in a place of rest as he repeatedly deals with the comments and responses of his listeners…

In the passage from John’s Gospel Jesus lays out, using picture language, who he is-

He’s like the Manna that came from heaven- food God gave their ancestors to help them survive in the desert in the time of Moses… so he’s from God, to help… a gift that brings life

BUT he’s also different- you don’t actually eat him, and he doesn’t actually nourish you like bread… even though he says you really have to… he’s the source of our life, he’s also the route to that life… when you eat food and drink something, you are trusting it completely- you’re putting it into your body…

When we think about salvation and eternal life, when we try to explain it, we often use pictures of things like a great big wall between us and God or a gap between us and God, as a way of describing life without God- we’re alive, but we can’t reach God, and everything we know is poorer because of that fact.  If you’re ever talking to someone about what it means to be a Christian, one of the hardest things to explain, and for them to grasp, is that you see things differently… In our society we’re so used to moving pictures that we barely notice them- screens are so all-present that its really difficult for us to think back to what it must have been like for grown adults, in a sophisticated society, to see for the first time a picture that moved- at the first ‘movies’ people screamed and fainted when things moved towards and past the camera without coming through the screen and into the theatre- without any cgi necessary! They just didn’t understand what was in front of them.

It’s the same when we try to explain what it means to follow Jesus, and Jesus faced this difficulty too- (which should encourage us when we’re worrying about this!)… When we try to explain what Jesus does, we can end up describing him like a bridge, or a gate- a thing. But we need to remember he’s a person too. He was real. He taught people to trust him, to follow him, and they told others, and some of them wrote that down, and others talked about it, and so on… and I’m talking to you because someone told me about it… a person told me about what another person has done… it can get all complicated by pictures, or they can help us to get things, but ultimately its about a person, called Jesus, and our response to him. People follow Jesus because of other people, not because of an idea. Let me show you what that means- put your hand up if you first came to church because someone invited or brought you… ok, keep it up, put your hand up if you came to understand more about Jesus or became a Christian because someone talked to you… most people in the world who are part of a church or have a faith in Jesus are in that position because someone else told them- not because of a concept, or a book- somewhere along the line, it comes down to people, and those people who’ve helped us to come to faith are trying to live like Jesus…

If we want to know what he was like, we can look at the Bible which describes his actions and what he said, or we can look at people who say they are trying to follow him, we can ask them how they follow him and we can join in that endeavour. We might try, for a while, to follow some of his ideas, to be like him in certain ways, but that would be like someone who, to use the idea that Jesus uses in this passage, is invited to come to dinner – you have to hear the invitation, turn up, sit down and eat… otherwise you might have done a whole lot of things, but you haven’t been for dinner… unless you do all of those.  Jesus said to those who were listening to him, who’d enjoyed the miracles and maybe been at the amazing picnic, who’d heard him say things that challenged other people… to those people Jesus now said- you have got to trust me, completely. Even more than our ancestors trusted God in the desert. And people didn’t like that. They liked, just like we do, to be able to trust a little and to hold back a little, to have control. As children and grown-ups we want to have control of things- the remote control is a classic example in every home… but Jesus says, give me control, and here’s why-

Those who were hearing Jesus, and us today, have to face up to two truths-

  • Jesus definitely talks about what happens after we die. He talks about eternal life, he talks about being raised up to life… and he talks about that eternal life being completely dependent on having him at the centre of our lives- we live because of him. Jesus claims that he can be trusted to help us with what happens after we die.
  • Jesus definitely talks about what happens before we die. He talks about feeding the hungry and healing the sick, about loving our neighbour and forgiving our irritating siblings… he talks about our life today being connected to that eternal life, and that he wants to be involved in how we live every day of the week. Jesus claims that he can be trusted to help us with what happens straight after we leave this building.

Everything we’ve been hearing about the Kingdom of God over the last few months revolves around these two things- and weaves them together… our eternal life in the kingdom of God starts when we commit to follow Jesus, and as we love our neighbours and pray for the transformation of our community so we bring the kingdom of God into our homes and workplaces…

So- what about our kettle, our puppet and our rubbish sack? Well, each one of them has a purpose, that can only be fully seen when they are filled… the kettle with water, the puppet with a hand and the sack with rubbish… and when they’re not filled they’re pretty useless. A church has a purpose, Christians have a purpose, and we need to be filled with God’s love and the Holy Spirit. And when we are filled we’re able to keep on… being like Jesus in places where its hard, sharing God’s love with those who really don’t seem that interested, blessing the people around us even when they don’t seem to deserve it- because someone was like Jesus for us, someone shared God’s love with us, someone helped us to know God’s blessing…

Let’s pray.

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