Feeding on Christ

Pentecost 12 – 2015

John 6:51-58

Marian Free

 

In the name of God who gives us life in abundance and desires that we share that life with the world. Amen. 

Most of you will have gathered by now that I experience a degree of frustration with regard to the focus on church growth and in particular the time spent in worrying why congregations are declining and the time and money spent on programmes designed to turn the decline around. My concern is that the navel-gazing of the past fifty years has achieved little and has caused us to become inward-looking rather than outward-focussed and that we are more anxious about the survival of the institution of the church than we are with the transmission of the gospel.

I am confident that God will survive with or without the church and will find new ways to make Godself known with or without our assistance. That said, thriving faith communities would ensure that for generations to come, that there will be a place or at least a group to whom people can come to hear the good news, to find spiritual refreshment and to be restored and made whole.

It was interesting therefore to attend the Arnott lecture two weeks ago and to be reminded by Bishop Stephen Cottrell that there are people in the wider community who are yearning for some spiritual connection, who have spiritual thirst that they are longing quench, a hunger they are desperate to satisfy and who are searching for answers in a world that can be isolating, confusing and even hostile.

Last week’s Clergy Conference focussed on Church Growth, but while its proponents did at times seem to be promoting growth for the sake of growth, they too expressed the belief that there are many non-church-goers who are seeking nourishment for their souls, an experience of life that is more satisfying than the material and superficial and a relationship with the utterly other.

The church as a community of faith is in an ideal position to satisfy this longing for meaning, search for depth and hunger for spiritual connection. So why is it that we are in decline? Why is it that those who are seeking turn to other faiths, explore other paths or simply give up the search? Is it because those who are looking for a connection with the sacred do not find it in the church? Is it because it is no longer evident that the church is the place in which spirituality is fed and nurtured? Is it because we have become so comfortable in our faith that we no longer make the effort to work on and to strengthen our relationship with God?

One of the speakers at the Clergy Conference challenged us to ask this question of ourselves and of our congregations: “Where are you with God?” “Where are you with God?” By this he means, “How is your relationship with God?” Are you conscious of the presence of God in your life? Do you nurture your relationship with God through regular prayer, reading God’s word or practicing some form of spiritual discipline? Is your spiritual life sufficiently full and rich that it spills over to enrich and enhance the lives of those around you? In other words are we feeding our own spiritual lives such that we have plenty with which to feed others?

In today’s gospel, Jesus reminds his listeners that he is the bread of life and he challenges them to feed on him, to so take him into themselves, into their lives, that they become a part of him and they of him.

If we really want to turn the church around perhaps we should stop looking for external reasons for the decline in numbers and begin looking at ourselves and the way we practice of our faith. We will have to stop looking back to the golden era of our past, stop believing that the faith is somehow passed on by osmosis or hoping that the right programme, the right youth leader or the ideal priest will turn things around.

The health of the church as a whole is the responsibility of every member of the church. That means that each of us needs to ask ourselves what we are doing about our own spiritual health; to question whether we are really feeding on the bread of life, continually re-fuelling our faith, allowing our relationship with Jesus to be constantly re-energised and enlivened and remind ourselves on a regular basis not only of what we believe, but of the benefits of being in a relationship with the living God.

Are we day by day allowing ourselves to abide in Jesus and allowing Jesus to abide in us?

I believe that the church will grow because we are energised by our faith, because the joy we experience is palpable, because we demonstrate in our own lives God’s unconditional love and because our experience of Jesus as the bread of life fills our longing for meaning and inspires us to share that meaning with those in our community who hunger and thirst for something more.

As you come to the altar this morning, as you take into your very selves the life-giving presence of Jesus, allow yourselves to be changed and transformed by the bread of life, let the Spirit of God burn within you and the creative energy of God inspire you. May our lives overflow with the knowledge and love of God – the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier – such that we cannot help but bring healing to those who are broken, provide direction to those who have lost their way and be a beacon of hope in a world that sometimes seems devoid of meaning.

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