Readings: Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25 to 5:2; John 6:35, 41-51
I had to smile when I saw this logo in an advert for the Invictus Games coming to Sydney in October. You see I had wanted to pick up on the `I am` statement in our gospel reading for today and there it was boldly standing out in a different context.
John`s gospel has Jesus proclaiming seven `I am` statements. They are (I am … the bread of life … the light of the world … the door … the good shepherd … the resurrection and the life ... the way, the truth and the life ... the true vine). And the number seven is seen as a special number in Judaism representing Creation and blessing, hence the seven branched menorah candlestick - as seen depicted in this carving from a recently excavated early 1st century synagogue at Magdala by the sea of Galilee. Back then in Palestine this deliberate use of `I am` would have carried an extra nuance because it could also be heard as a play on the unspoken Hebrew name for the divine, Yahweh meaning `I am who I am` as revealed to Moses in the burning bush. As we saw in our Psalm for today, Yahweh is written as LORD in capital letters in our English bibles.
Later, in John chapter 8:58 we hear of Jesus saying, `Before Abraham was I am.` Perhaps the gospel writer is trying to affirm that the same God who has inspired and worked through great leaders in human history is now being revealed in Jesus as the Christ. But the first of those seven statements `I am the bread of life` becomes expanded in chapter 6 to mean so much more. Here Jesus is portrayed as showing that we ordinary folk are also being invited to trust that relationship with the Great I AM is there for everyone. `I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.`
All it takes is a willingness to engage with what early followers called the Jesus Way involving loving kindness and social justice and non-violence. But Jesus is also emphasising that such relationship implies a two-way flow - put simply, work with God`s ways and God works through you more fully. `Whoever believes has eternal life` meaning fullness of life. And of course, Jesus`s bottom line was having trust in the power of love just like the Psalmist did in his despair.
Unfortunately, we seem to be living in world that is going in the opposite direction shaped by distrust and anxiety. And who can blame people when we hear of the gross lack of moral compass displayed by Church leaders and the banks` CEOs at the two recent royal commissions. I also have deep concern about the way in which anxieties are being manipulated into fears by politicians and some media personalities as part of their power games. Hitler was a past master of this and Mr Trump thinks he is. However as Yoda, my favourite character in Star Wars, said, `Fear is the path to the dark side … fear leads to anger… anger leads to hate … hate leads to suffering.` (in
The Phantom Menace).
So how do we provide a counterpoint? In a moment I`m going to be asking `Where do we experience the bread of life?` But before that I`ll share some raiding of the West Australian newspaper from the past few days.
There was this article on Wednesday by journalist Linda Blair headlined `Saying thank you is a good way to make us feel happier`. She begins by saying `Most approaches to psychotherapy now encourage clients to become more compassionate, non-judgemental and forgiving - to others and to themselves - and to focus on the positive aspects of their lives.` Surprise, surprise! Not! Then she went on to speak of studies done where people were taught to develop these skills by keeping `a gratitude journal - a written diary of those things for which the individual feels grateful, be they people, events or experiences.`
And my mind went back to the time I was chaplain at Bandyup Prison and would encourage despondent women to look back over their day and think of some blessing that day - be it a beautiful flower, a bird singing, a smile from someone or a kind word. Just wish I`d thought of suggesting a gratitude journal too! The article ends by saying `With levels of loneliness rising and more individuals feeling depressed and anxious, it seems a shame to keep feelings of gratitude to yourself. Instead once a month write a letter of thanks to someone who`s shown you kindness. And deliver it to them in person - you`ll double the benefits of expressing gratitude.` It`s as simple as that! Yet so nourishing.
And then on Thursday there was this title `Charity boss calls for more compassion` noting how Ian Carter, the outgoing chairman of Anglicare was urging more compassion for those people worse off, amid growing homelessness, domestic violence and relationship breakdowns.
This past week has been National Homelessness Week. It came about from various churches and missions running winter vigils to remember people who had died on the streets. These vigils were normally held in August, the coldest time of year when people were likely to be overcome by the elements. Currently 116,000 Australians are homeless on any given night, 9000 are Western Australians, and a quarter of those are children under 18. Some sleep rough, some rely on the goodwill of family and friends. This week`s SBS program `Filthy Rich and Homeless` at 8.30pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday will provide a raw insight into this shameful blot on our society.
Also on Thursday there was this photo of some WA fireys with experience as first responders who had been on holiday on Bali when the earthquake struck in Lombok and flew into the disaster zone to help. And then in the paper yesterday was this retiree who has a foster child on Lombok whose family have lost their home and she has just gone over there with some lightweight tents, crutches and stethoscopes.
So I`m going to pause now and ask you to think about `What the bread of life means for you` - `Where have you experienced the bread of life over the past week or so?` - `What nourishes you spiritually?`
Would anyone like to share?
Today we have heard of Jesus attempting to offer a new level of teaching - a re-imagined world which saw divine presence in the ordinariness of life amongst ordinary people everywhere. In doing so the focus shifts from the traditional transcendent view of God to become seen also as immanent. And the final word rests with the writer of Ephesians 5:1-2 `Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.`