Posts Tagged ‘bible reading’

Feeding on Christ

August 15, 2015

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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Thirsting for God’s word

July 20, 2013

Pentecost 9

Amos 8:1-12

Marian Free 

Loving God, give us such a thirst for your word that we may read, learn and inwardly digest it and so share it with others. Amen.

I wonder how well you know your Bibles – the word of God. There are some things that you will know well and others that you may not know at all. For example, I am sure that if I asked you how many gospels there were you would all say “four” and that if I asked you to name Jesus’ disciples that you would be able to name at least three. Similarly, I am guessing that you could tell me the first line of the 23rd Psalm and that most of you would know where to look for the story of Daniel in the lion’s den. How would you go though if I asked you to explain why the four gospels differ from each other? How many of Jesus’ parables would you be able to repeat? Do you know in which book of the Bible you would find Satan in the court of heaven? In which book of the New Testament would you find the Golden Rule? And where in the Old Testament would you find the expressions: “How the mighty have fallen” or “keep me as the apple of your eye”[1]?

Many of the churches in this Diocese are participating in an audit that has been developed to measure the health of the church. A key finding of “The Natural Church Life Survey” is that across the Diocese, our knowledge of the bible is very poor. The central document of our faith, the book which records our stories and tells us how God has been a part of human history, is, for many of us, a book which remains largely unknown.

This is a pity for a number of reasons, most of all because the Bible is God’s love letter to humanity. We discover in its pages the story of creation’s propensity to turn away from God and the story of God’s patience which, over and over again, overlooks all our failings and shortcomings and continually restores us. The bible is filled with words of wisdom and comfort to encourage and sustain us – to give us guideposts along the way and to tell us something of the love and presence of God.

Just to give you a few of my favourite examples: Psalm 56:8 tells us that God keeps all our tears in a bottle. Isaiah and Revelation insist that God will wipe away all our tears (Is 25:8, Rev 21:4). In John’s gospel Jesus says: “I have come that you might have life and have it in abundance” (10:10. Elsewhere he says that all the hairs on our head are counted (Luke 12:7). God’s love continues to be poured out on us no matter how little we have done to deserve it.

The list is endless. From the proclamation in Genesis that God created humankind and it was very good, to the promises of heaven in Revelation, the Bible constantly affirms our worth in God’s eyes and God’s love for us – no matter how far we stray or how much we let God down.

On the other hand, the bible is a very human book and its pages expose the very worst of human nature. Between its covers you will find accounts of fratricide, genocide, infanticide, murder, adultery, rape and betrayal. There is no escape in our holy book from the reality of human existence and its potential for and propensity to sin. There is no glossing over or white washing the behaviour of even our most revered biblical heroes – with the exception of Jesus, they are all as flawed as we are.

The reading from Amos today is one of those bleak passages which discourage many from reading the Bible and the Old Testament in particular. This is one of the reasons that it is important to know our Bibles. We have to remember the context in which such accounts were written. In the time of Amos, the people of Israel had abandoned God, they were oppressing the poor and engaging in dubious and dishonest trading practices. Amos is expressing God’s frustration and sorrow at such a situation and God’s distress that the people no longer pay any attention to God’s word. God’s anguish is such that he threatens to withdraw the word from them in order that they should hunger and thirst for it, that they should long to know God again.

So we do an injustice to the text if we don’t take the trouble to understand its historical context, but we also judge it unfairly if we do not read it in the light of the whole book. If we persist to the end of the book of Amos, we see a different story – God does not remain angry, but relents:

9: 13 The time is surely coming, says the LORD,

when the one who ploughs shall overtake the one who reaps,

and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;

the mountains shall drip sweet wine,

and all the hills shall flow with it.

14             I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,

and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;

they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,

and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.

15             I will plant them upon their land,

and they shall never again be plucked up

out of the land that I have given them,             says the LORD your God.

The book of Amos was written in and for times very different from our own, but it can still speak to us. We are living in an increasingly multi-cultural and secular society which means that it is our responsibility to keep the word of God alive – to ensure that it is known not only to us but to generations to come. We may not experience a famine of “hearing the words of the Lord”, but the world at large does. It has less and less opportunity to engage with God and with God’s word. For that reason, it is incumbent on us to know and to share what and why we believe, to know our story so well that we can tell it to others, to be so enthusiastic that others will thirst to hear more.

I would like to end today with a challenge for you to begin to read the bible for yourself. Don’t set your target too high, begin with something that is manageable. Decide for example to read the bible for just five minutes a day or to read your way through one book of the bible. Develop your curiosity, ask questions: “What does the bible say about ….” Where can I find the parable of the Good Samaritan? What verse or what Psalm would I suggest to a friend who was going through a difficult time? Where would I find passages that talk about God’s limitless love? Give it a go and see what you can discover.

Let us be those who so know God’s word that we are able to make it known, those who so thirst for the word of God that we are ourselves equipped to slake the thirst of others and so familiar with the word, that it is like our second nature.


[1] The differences in the gospels relate to the writer’s intent, the community for which they were written and to other reasons which I can’t go into here. In the Book of Job, Satan plays an important role in the heavenly court. The Golden Rule is found in Luke and Matthew (6:31, 7:12). ‘How the mighty have fallen” is part of David’s Lament for Saul and David in 2 Samuel 2:19,27 and “keep me as the apple of your eye” comes from Psalm 17:8.


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