A reflection for the 1st August 2021
Ninth Sunday after Trinity 2021
Offered for Sunday 1st August 2021
'Ninth Sunday after Trinity 2021'
Compiled 31st July 2021
Rudyard Kipling published his 'Just So Stories' in 1902,
and buried a little gem in them. At the very end of one story;
"The Elephant's Child" we find these now famous lines:
"I keep six honest serving-men, They taught me all I knew;
Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who."
Often cited as invaluable tools for journalists and detectives,
those words can undoubtedly serve Christians too.
Throughout salvation history, and throughout the Bible, people have
asked questions of God, and about God, even if answers are not always
forthcoming in quite the way we expect.
All six of Kipling's "serving-men" are on duty in John 6: 24 to 35.
It opens with people looking for Jesus;
asking 'where' is he.
Finally they spot him, and although they ask 'when' he got there,
what they really mean is how?
A few verses earlier Jesus had walked across the water to join his
disciples in the boat, but the crowd saw the boat depart without him.
They board another vessel and, lo and behold, Jesus is already there
on the other side! They can't understand 'how' he managed to get
across the lake before them.
Clearly a miracle, and even though they'd witnessed a miracle the
previous day, when Jesus fed the 5,000, they still didn't recognise
who Jesus really is. He gives them a clue in his words about the food
that endures for eternal life.
Loud hints he is the Son of Man, on whom God the Father has set his
seal, and that they should believe in him;
but all fall on deaf ears.
Still unbelieving and almost unbelievably, given what they have
witnessed, they demand 'what' sign he will give, and 'what' work he
is doing to help them believe.
As we look at our readings today, in fact don't just stop there,
include the whole tenant of scripture, keep using the
'Kipling Serving Men', or you may miss something!
Let us Pray
God of silence and God of all sound,
help us to listen.
Help us to listen to the sound of our souls,
waiting to hear your soft voice calling us deeper into you.
Give us attentive ears
that begin to separate the noise from your still small voice;
which you who have been using to speak to us?
That through our whole questioning lives,
we may witness to your unreserved love;
revealed through Christ and
in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Peter was helping Imogen hang curtains.
"Can you pass me another ring," she asked, engrossed in
what she was listening to on the radio.
He did so, but instead of a metal curtain ring, he passed her a
gold engagement ring.
For a heartbeat she didn't realise what had happened.
"Thanks," she replied, absent mindedly taking the ring and trying to
thread it through the loop in the top of the curtain.
When it wouldn't go, she looked down and suddenly understood the
significance of the ring.
In the next moment she was laughing and hugging her new fiancé.
"Phew," said Peter, "I honestly thought for a moment you were going
to turn me down."
This is akin to what Jesus is describing at the beginning of
John 6: 24 to 35. An engagement ring is so much more precious
than a curtain ring; not just in terms of material value;
the metal it's made from or the jewels it contains;
but because of the love and adoration it represents.
It's as though someone were to use a love letter to light a fire.
Jesus challenges people to understand the significance of what he
is really offering; so much more than food and drink for today.
What he offers, in fact, is everything that's needed to provide
and sustain eternal life.
One of John's themes is to introduce its readers to Jesus,
and invite them to a response of faith.
This passage captures the heart of the Gospel:
Jesus offers everything necessary for both earthly and eternal life.
Jesus has been pursued by those who received the miraculous feeding
of the crowd on a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
When they find him, he challenges them to think less of their stomachs
focusing less on the sign, more on its significance.
The people want to know how they can do what God wants in order to
receive what Jesus tells them that God wants to give them; "eternal life".
Jesus says clearly, as so often in John's Gospel, it's all about how
we respond to him. In essence he's saying:
"If you believe in me, which means to follow me as a disciple,
you will be doing what God wants."
This is a simple yet a hard message to believe, and the hearers
deflect its challenge with a different question, this time about Moses.
Jesus explains the manna was provided by God, not Moses; and so they
should be concerned to serve God today, rather than thinking about
Accepting this explanation, the people ask Jesus to give them the
"true bread", and Jesus says, "I am the bread of life."
We are challenged to build our whole lives upon Jesus;
but what does this look like in practice??
It can be easy to enjoy our lives as members of the Church for what
it gives us today.
Yet Church is more than enjoying music, the opportunity to meet with
friends, the intellectual stimulation of an enjoyable sermon,
something that breaks up the weekend.
It is a gateway to our relationship with Jesus, who feeds and forms
us through word, sacrament and fellowship into his disciples,
those who are living out eternal life today.
If we fail to meet the Jesus, who is at the heart of our worship,
receive his love and respond, we are like Imogen, missing the
significance of the ring she was passed, or the person who lights
a fire with a love letter.
How do we do this?
It's often useful to pause, perhaps especially in these summer weeks,
to ponder how much of our life is shaped by our faith in Jesus.
We know we will be forgiven where we fall short of this ideal,
and helped by the Spirit to conform all that we are and all that we do
to the one whom we proclaim as Lord.
If we are truly being nourished by the bread of eternal life,
we should see evidence of it in everything we think, say and do;
and that will stay with us beyond this life into all eternity.
It can be easy to miss the deeper significance
of a gift, or a word;
like seeing a love letter as just a useful piece of paper.
Jesus invites the crowd to look beyond the sign of feeding the body
to see its significance as a symbol of feeding the soul.
He explains that to earn this "true bread" the people must believe
in him, as the one sent by God.
We should look beyond the simple signs of our faith to feed on Christ
in word and sacrament and to be formed as his eternal disciples.
God of glory,
you nourish us with your Word
who is the bread of life:
fill us with your Holy Spirit
and through us the light of your glory
may shine in all the world.
and the blessing.....