Sermon: 10th Sunday after Trinity – 8th August 2021
By Kelly Parsons
Readings: 1 Kings 19: 4-8; John 6: 35, 41-51
At the beginning of my discernment process, I completed a course called hearing God’s Word, Speaking God’s word.
For the final assessment of this I was required to plan and preach a sermon in church. This was the first time I would preach in church as part of Sunday worship.
Paul was very kind and said I could look at the readings and pick the Sunday I would like to preach.
I have found it is in my nature not to pick the easy route and true to form I said to Paul, ‘Let’s just agree a date and I will preach on whatever the reading is.’
The reading was Ezekiel and the Valley of Dry Bones. Not an easy reading for a nervous first-time preacher.
Later when I met with Pamela, the Diocesan Director of Ordinands and she asked about my preaching experience. I told her about the course. She commented on the course and how it was an easy way to introduce people to sermon writing especially as you can choose the readings. When I told her what my first sermon was on, she laughed and said, ‘you have passed.’
This week I found myself in a similar situation. After agreeing that I would lead and preach today in Paul’s absence, I looked at the reading. The readings from John 6 are spread over four consecutive Sundays and this period in the church is dreaded by clergy.
John is not a story-teller and his gospel lacks the imagery of the other three. Many find the language repetitive and even boring. John asks more questions than he answers.
So then, what is the purpose of John’s gospel ?
If is dreaded by clergy and congregations alike, then why do we have it in the lectionary?
This simple answer lies within the book itself.
All of the Gospels have a purpose and John’s is no exception to this rule. Once the purpose of the gospel is understood, it unlocks the other passages.
John 20 verses 30-31: Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
The purpose of John’s gospel is to persuade the reader to believe and tell others that Jesus is God’s Son, is sent by God out of love for us and to give everlasting life to those who believe in him.
With this in mind let us return to the passage read today:
I am the bread of life that came down from heaven, says Jesus.
A familiar enough phrase for us in today’s church. It is part of the Eucharistic prayers that we say most weeks.
The people respond to Jesus with a challenge. This is a common pattern in John and we see this throughout John 6.
The people argue that Jesus cannot be the bread from heaven as he has two human parents – Mary and Joseph. At the time the people are showing that they are confused and this confusion can quickly lead to anger and violence.
These people were not followers of Jesus and were not naturally attracted to him in the same way that others were.
I will touch on this again later.
They feel that Jesus is contradicting himself. They know of his human origins yet now he is saying that he came down from heaven. They cannot unite the two ideas that Jesus can be both fully human and fully divine.
This is a deep theological concept that is covered in Christian Doctrine.
What they missed was that what Jesus was saying was not about identity. But what he is giving.
Jesus did not say, ‘I came down from heaven.’ He said ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’
Jesus does not respond directly to the questions raised. Jesus directs his answer not to the question they ask as, at this point he does not want to get into a debate over identity and authority. Religious authorities of the time were obsessed with these themes.
Rather, Jesus wants them to understand what he is saying. By eating the bread of life you are entering into a loving relationship with God and will be sustained and transformed through death. The bread is the dying flesh of Jesus that he gives for a world where death reigns.
This relates back to the purpose of John’s gospel: to persuade people to believe in Jesus and have life in his name.
Returning to the point I mentioned earlier. Some people were just naturally attracted to Jesus. They left everything to hear Him speak.
1 John 4 verse 9 tells us that God first loved us. Through creation God put love in our hearts. Creation happens all the time and God’s love is present in the world.
In the creation story it talks about creation through the Word of God. Then the word becomes flesh and is tangible, visible in Jesus.
Those who followed Jesus recognised the Word within Him. The inner love that he carried because they carried it too.
Verse 44 says, ‘No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.
This statement tells us that Jesus is working together with the Father
In ancient spirituality the love of God was thought to be a fire that rose in a person’s chest and came out through their eyes. This would allow the person to recognise whatever was of God on the outside because of that inner love of God was part of their own being. Those who did not have the fire in their eyes had been thought to have lost the love of God and their hearts hardened. The are not able to see the light of Christ. The were not drawn to Jesus.
In John’s gospel the religious authorities are described as having hardened hearts. Instead of being drawn to Jesus they question and challenge what he says.
I think that we are drawn to each other as a church family because we recognise the Holy spirit in each other. We feel comfortable learning together. Exploring and developing that deeper relationship with God. John’s gospel equips us with responses that can be given when we carry the love of God out into the world.
When we talk with those who do not recognise the love of God. This whose hearts may have hardened. God can work through us to rekindle the fire in their hearts.
Jesus continues this debate with the people even though he can feel hostility rising. Even though he knows that love is not in their hearts.
When we read this story, we have the best seats. We already know that Jesus dies for us and the giving of his flesh brings eternal life. The meaning for us is already clear.
John picks the interactions that he included in his gospel carefully to reinforce the message that he is sending. Which means that it lacks some of the imagery of the other gospels, however, its importance is clear: John’s gospel gives us the tool to see the whole bible as a book of life that gives life. It gives us a sold grounding to our faith.
The gospel of John is read in the church on consecutive weeks because it was meant to be read as a book – from cover to cover to fully understand the message, not in passages. Each part builds on the strength the evidence of a life-giving faith.
What Jesus was saying to these people and his followers was challenging.
These people were experiencing the story as it happened. Some walked away.
Others stayed. They stayed because they believed that Jesus had the words of eternal life and they wanted to know more.
John may be challenging and there may be stuff in there that makes us want to walk away. To select a gospel that is easier to read and relate to. But to have a relationship with God, to have a deep friendship with Him, you have to stick with it.
All good things require some application. Learning to play an instrument, singing, flower arranging or running 10k. It doesn’t just happen overnight. So let’s make that promise, that application to have a relationship with God that is deep and meaningful.
Let’s read the Gospel of John and listen to what he says.