A Sermon preached by the Reverend Ivo Morshead at St George's Church on Sunday 9 August 2015 at 10am
1 Kings 19 v 4-8,
, Eph 4 25-31, John 6, 35, 41-51
· .Jesus said, I am the Bread of Life, He who comes to me will never be hungry. 51
· Words from the gospel for this morning.
The two lessons and the Gospel read this morning hold together in a surprising way. First we heard the miraculous feeding of the cake to Elijah as he rested under the solitary broom tree exhausted by his having to flee from the horrible Jezebel. Next we heard a passage from the letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians which sets out clearly what is expected of those who claim to be Christians, be kind to one another, tender hearted forgiving one another as readily as God in Christ forgave you. Finally the Gospel .Jesus said, I am the Bread of Life, He who comes to me will never be hungry, so relevant to this service where we shall be partaking of the bread that will be consecrated on the altar with the words Take eat, this is my body which is given for you, do this in remembrance of me.
The challenge to us today and every day of our lives is what we mean by doing this in remembrance of me. One clear meaning for us should be total identification with Christ. We are his body on earth, he has no hands but ours, no feet but ours no mind nor voice. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians be friends with one another, and kind, forgiving each other as readily as God forgave you in Christ. If only we could corporately and as individuals.
A film demonstrating how far we are from that ideal was showing at The Gate cinema throughout July. It is called the ‘Salt of the Earth’ and showed mankind through the lens of the camera of Sebastiao Salgado, a famous Brazilian photographer. The film begins with an unbelievable sight of an enormous steep sided open gold mine filled with a mass of humanity. Much as one might imagine the slaves climbed ladders to build the pyramids so here there was a column 10 or more persons wide all climbing vertical ladders with a bag of soil balanced on their necks. Further on there was an equivalent column of men slithering down the steep fall of the mine to collect the next load. Each man was working for himself. His hope was that the bag of earth that he carried would contain gold the proceeds from sale of which would make him rich. A vision indeed of the worship of the golden calf by the People of Israel taking advantage of the absence of Moses when he was in the mountain receiving from god the ten commandments. A vision perhaps of much of life today in the eager scramble for riches where only a small percentage of the population of any nation own a disproportionate share of its wealth.
The next hour of the film ‘Salt of the Earth’ was taken up with the working life of Salgado. He was present in Coatia during the wars resulting from the break up of Yugoslavia showing the murder and mayhem of Serb against Bosnian and vice versa with its effect on the innocent women and children. On from there to the dreadful starvation among refugees fleeing from Ruanda and the terrible slaughter there and elsewhere in the African continent. If that was not enough to demonstrate the fall of mankind from grace we were shown the effect of the destruction of the Brazilian rain forests bringing desolation, famine and parched earth where once rivers and streams flowed.
All this of course has been a picture of the world for centuries. As we heard in the first lesson Elijah was having to flee for his life from the wrath of Jezebel the wife of King Ahab who has sworn to kill him on account of his opposition to the destructive ways of the king who has led the people away from God to worship Baal. The persecution of the righteous poor by the strong and powerful who see them as a threat to their way of life. It is however the Lord who brings succour and hope to the suicidal Elijah. The Bible recognises all too well the weakness of what Salgado in his film calls ‘The Salt of the Earth’, namely mankind.
It is this mankind that Paul addresses in the epistle where he sets out to Christian people how the members of the church should behave in remembrance of me. It can be seen as a manual for the behaviour of converts as he sets out how the old patterns of living namely anger, theft and evil speaking and bitterness must be put aside and be replaced by kindness, tenderness to one another and above all forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you, 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. The problem, of course, is how this can come about.
The Bible tells us that when we are in need or in despair God will offer sustenance in a real form. We heard an example of this with Elijah in his despair who was told to get on his feet and eat the cake and drink the water that the angel had prepared for him. The People of Israel crossing the desert became hungry and yearned to turn back to the flesh pots of Egypt even though that would mean slavery again. God provided the manna from heaven but only enough for each day. No hoarding or storing away for another time, it had to be eaten now without delay. Thus bread and feeding of the hungry is very much part of Scripture and is central to our Christian faith in the words of the prayer that Jesus has taught us to say, namely Give us this day our daily bread. It is within this context that Jesus said in today’s Gospel reading I am the Bread of Life, He who comes to me will never be hungry.
It is these words that upset the crowd of Jews who complained about Jesus because he had said I am the bread that came down from heaven. In his reply to them Jesus reminds us of the fragility and short life of the manna that sustained their ancestors in the wilderness. The bread of heaven to which he referred, however, is everlasting and the bread to which he is referring stems from the Jesus’s own death from which has come the means of bringing life to believers; whoever eats of this bread will live for ever.
Thus the bible, especially the New Testament, is full of hope and promise. So too in fact was the film ‘Salt of the Earth’. In spite of all the black side of humanity depicted in the filming of wars persecution and manmade drought, it ended with a sequence showing the restoration of part of the destroyed Brazilian rain forest by the planting of millions of saplings. It has been proved and is visible in the amazing vistas of young trees growing on what had been desolate deforested acres of mountains. The ending of droughts and the return of wild life signified the possibility of reversing all the damage done already.
The possibility of reversing the fall mankind came with the gift of God who gave his only begotten Son Jesus Christ with his words to us all I am the Bread of Life, He who comes to me will never be hungry. We who are His body the Church are strengthened and sustained by the elements of the Eucharist to live our lives with Christ dwelling in our hearts with faith.
The Common Worship prayer book has a petition that sums it all up;
Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands that have taken Holy Things, may the ears that have heard your word be deaf to clamour and dispute, may the tongues that have sung your praise be free from deceit, may the eyes which have seen the tokens of your love shine with the light of hope, and may the bodies which have fed with your body be refreshed with the fullness of your life.