Monday, 6 August 2012

Trinity 9 - A sermon by Kevin Bright

I did wonder if I would get my thoughts together in time to say a few words this morning due to the fact that like much of the country I’ve been severely distracted from my normal routine by the Olympics. It seems everyone is either attending an event, watching it on TV or has fled the country to avoid it. The roads and trains in London have never been quieter. It felt that every time I sat down to study today’s readings someone in my household would shout ‘it’s Jessica Ennis, Usain Bolt is on, or we’ve just won another gold medal in the rowing’!
Sportsmen and women from the four home countries plus several others born overseas which have taken British citizenship have put club, regional and national differences aside and come together under one banner to form team GB and so far it seems to be going rather well doesn’t it. Perhaps it’s a shame the two parts of Korea can’t do the same then there couldn’t be a mix up over flags and their medals total would get a boost.
There’s an element of this theme in the letter Paul wrote from his prison cell to the church in Ephesus and the wider area. He reminds early followers of Christ that they need to keep in mind the fact that despite their differences there are far more important things which bring them together. They and us as their successors share the same hope, faith, baptism and share in the same spirit. When we remember this we make the body of Christ stronger, ready to hold onto what is important and shore up our defences against those who seek to exploit division and difference. To do this we need a mature faith that can withstand challenges as well as a faith which can celebrate all that we have been given.
 I can’t help but envisage young children in a howling gale with wicked people trying to trick them when I read Paul’s instructions that ‘we must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.’ I don’t think we should expect all three scenarios at the same time but there are always challenges to face and maintaining our unity as the body of Christ best equips us to face these.
If you are a gardener who likes to grow their own fruit and veg it’s been a challenging year so far. I was becoming a bit concerned that the plague of slugs eating my vegetables were some sort of punishment for my sins until all my neighbours complained of the same thing. So either all the sinful people are living alongside each other or it’s just a bad year. Usually we would have been munching on courgettes for several weeks by now but the lack of heat meant that I was recently forced to buy some Spanish ones in a supermarket and I was shocked at the price, three of them for £1.50!
More seriously drought in the US threatens the corn and wheat crop often referred to as the world’s bread basket and this will clearly impact on food prices. There may be a small number in our church who can recall the hunger of food rationing from wartime but not many of us will have known what it is to be truly hungry and I suspect most of us are actually trying to reduce the number of calories we are consuming.
Rationing would have been necessary for the Israelites in the desert who had probably been travelling for around a month to the point we heard of today and supplies would have been running low. Even when we get a bit peckish and dehydrated the best of us can become quite irritable so it’s no surprise to hear of the moaning directed against Moses and Aaron as the travellers idealise their memories of Egypt where food was abundant asking why they have been taken out in the wilderness to die of hunger.
The point of the manna and quails which we hear God provides is a reminder that often when we are at our lowest point we may also be at our closest to God. When we feel our resources are low we need God’s help to put our trust in him. When we are weak the delusion of self sufficiency is shattered and we recognise that not only are we interdependent but that everything we have comes from God.
John’s gospel also considers miraculous feeding, in this case the people are keen to find Jesus after the feeding of 5000 from a few loaves and fishes. When they finally catch up with him he implies that they have got ‘the wrong end of the stick.’ The people want more miracles but he wants them to think beyond this and consider what the signs and miracles actually tell them.
As time moves on quite a lot of the crowd will go home unwilling to think deeper than visible signs which amaze and entertain them but some want to know more and discover that the sign of the feeding leads them to the true food ‘the Son of Man will give you.’ What the people have seen Jesus do is the type of thing they know from Israel’s scriptures that God does and this resonates with the manna in the wilderness. The people are being challenged to recognise that the same God is at work in Jesus as was providing for the people in Exodus. There is a shift in the relationship with God from one based on rules and logic to one of belief and trust in God’s love for us.
It boils down to a challenging question. We know we need food for our earthly existence but do we really hunger for salvation? If the answer is yes then God assures us that he will provide spiritual nourishment in abundance, enough to sustain our deepest cravings for faith through Jesus ‘the bread of life.’
I admit that when I think of hunger I am more likely to think of the Sahel region in Africa which is currently in the news because it is facing serious food shortages than Sevenoaks and the surrounding villages. Yet right here among us there are people going hungry because they don’t have the money to buy basic foods most of us take for granted.
You will be aware that this church collects food for ‘loaves n fishes’ which started with 2 women who saw first-hand in their own homes that friends of their children were hungry. They approached the Head Teacher at St Johns Primary and asked her if there was a problem. Her reply prompted the start of the food bank which is in St Johns Church Hall (though not specifically linked to St Johns church).
Families are referred via schools, clergy and social workers for example.  At present there are 21 local families being supported with a total of 53 children. Each week the families collect a bag of food.
During school holidays the children don't receive subsidised school meals so the families are being given a packed tea or lunch which I hear are eagerly consumed.
It’s a project that needs to be sustained long term and those of us that choose to support it could usefully make some items from the list on this month’s newsletter a regular part of the normal shopping pattern.
There are a lot of different local churches which provide food, plus some schools. The churches have differing forms of worship and some even disagree strongly about issues such as women bishops for example. We had better all be careful though because if people keep putting their differences aside to get on with the practical fulfilment of God’s will in this way there is a real danger that someone might ask who do you lot think you are, the body of Christ?

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