Sunday, 26 August 2018

Trinity 13: Self-made or God-made?

I wonder how many people you’ve depended on so far this morning, how many people have helped you? There may be some obvious answers. Perhaps someone’s  made breakfast for you, or given you a lift. Here in church, people have given you hymn books, musicians have sung and played, people have set up the church for the service – we soon discover how much we need them when they aren’t there and everything goes to pot! 

But you will also have depended this morning on many people who you’ll never see or know; those who produced the food you ate for breakfast and transported it to the shops you bought it from, those who maintain the infrastructure we all depend on, who provide electricity, gas, clean water and so on.

And it doesn’t stop there. Behind the people who help us in the here and now is a vast number of others stretching back into distant history whose work has made possible what we enjoy today. We can follow the service because people taught us to read – teachers or parents – and those who campaigned and worked for free, universal education. We may only have lived to see this day because medical professionals and scientists over the ages have laboured to discover and develop treatments for the diseases that would once have finished a lot of us off prematurely.  I could go on, but you get the message. It’s only 10.2am, but we’ve already depended on an army of people today.

But how many of them have we consciously thought about this morning, let alone thanked? Probably not many, and my experience is that most of us prefer to think of ourselves as independent, self-reliant, self-sufficient, in charge of our own lives – not needing others. We like to think that we are “self-made” people.

The term “self-made man” only entered the dictionary in 1832 – US senator Henry Clay seems to have coined it to describe those pioneering people who made new lives for themselves in the USA. They’d had to reinvent themselves as they’d colonised what was, for them, uncharted territory. Some had chosen to come. Others were forced from their old ways of life in Europe by persecution, pogroms or famine. It’s easy to see why they might have felt as if any success they’d had was down to them alone and to their determination and grit. No wonder the myth of the “self-made man” or “self-made woman” caught on so stronglyin the USA – it’s something that Donald Trump is noticeably playing into.

But it is a myth. In reality, those pioneers were drawing on all sorts of support in order to survive; the lessons they’d learned growing up, the accumulated store of wisdom developed in their old countries which they’d brought with them, the political and financial backing of vested interests who wanted them to colonise this vast country. There is no such thing as a “self-made” person.

And when we read the Bible, we discover that that’s how God intended it to be. Christians believe that each of us, and all the world, is made by God, that God “intricately wove us in the depths of the earth” as Psalm 139 puts it, that God shaped us before we were born, and sustains us through life and death. But you don’t have to have a religious belief to see that none of us is entirely our own creation.  At the most basic level, we are all made physically from the DNA of our parents. We arrive in the world with many of the building blocks of our temperament and personality already formed, as well as our physical characteristics. Our bodies are made from the food we eat, and the communities we grow up in shape us socially, psychologically and spiritually. The things that happen to us, for good or ill, profoundly affect our lives too. I saw a moving interview with young Rohingya people growing up in refugee camps in Bangladesh this week. One 15 year old girl had married a man in his 60’s and was carrying his child, another had become a sex worker. It wasn’t what they’d planned for their lives, but they’d lost their families and their schools. They’d found themselves on their own, unsupported, so they’d had to make choices from which there could be no going back. How might our lives have turned out if we had been put in the situation they were? None of us can know.

The idea that our lives are entirely down to us, that we can do whatever we want to, if we only have enough grit and determination is wishful thinking. Of course we have choices, but we are never totally in control of our lives. And let’s not be blinded by that military imagery in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and in some of our hymns this morning. They may sound like anthems to the self-reliant hero, but the point Paul, and the hymn writers are making is that soldiers need strength and armour beyond themselves to survive the battle Paul calls it the armour of God to emphasize that. It’s not their own! All they can do is choose whether to put it on or not.

In our Old Testament reading, Joshua calls the Israelites to make a choice too. They’d struggled across the wilderness for forty long years, led by Moses. But now they’d finally reached the Promised Land, a land “flowing with milk and honey”, a fertile land, where they were starting to grow crops that had been unimaginable in the desert. Everyone is heaving sighs of relief. At last that terrifying time in the desert has ended! They can put it behind them. But the danger is that they will also put behind them the memory of how they survived, that it was God who rescued them from Pharaoh and sustained them on their wandering. And if they forget that, there’s a danger too that they’d forget the lessons he taught them. Through their hardships, God had formed this bunch of slaves into a people, given them patterns of life to follow, patterns of justice and compassion, of care for each other and for the world. God had given them a sense of dignity and agency. They had learned that they were beloved by God. He’d gone to all this trouble for them – for them! These were lessons they would need to hang onto if they were going to build a society that reflected God’s priorities. But remembering God would mean remembering their need and vulnerability too – that’s something we all sometimes struggle with when we’ve come through hard times. We just want to move on, to say  “I’m ok now. I’m fine. I don’t need help anymore.”

Joshua fears that they’d prefer to worship the local gods of Canaan, gods associated with lush green pastures, fruit trees, grain fields, grape vines, comfort, ease than the God who reminds them of a time when they were powerless and hungry. His fears are realistic, as it turns out. Although they promise to “choose God” at this point, the reality is rather different, and they soon fall away from that promise.

It’s no accident that the book of Joshua, along with much of the Old Testament, was written during the time the Israelites were far from home and in deep trouble all over again, in exile in Babylon. Once again they were desperate, and asking what had happened, why this disaster had fallen on them. The Old Testament writers drew on ancient oral tales, but they shaped them into a bigger story, a story of God who had been faithful to them, even when they hadn’t been faithful to him. It was as if Joshua was standing before them now, in Babylon, and offering them the choice all over again. Who’s really had your back all these years? Who’s really cared about you and been there for you when you’ve needed it? Is it the gods of Canaan? Is it the god you have made of your own strength and capability?   

In the Gospel reading, people are struggling with the same dilemma. Jesus has fed 5000 people on five loaves and two fishes out in the middle of nowhere – and, yes, that is meant to remind us, and them, of the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness. People have been very grateful. But then Jesus tells them that they need far more than loaves and fishes to be really alive. They need to feed on him. It’s all too much. For a start it sounds suspiciously like cannibalism, which is rather yucky, but even if they can get past that, Jesus is unmistakeably talking about a commitment to him, a choice they need to make, and that’s far more than they’d bargained on.

Many of his followers quietly slope away. In the end, there’s just Peter and a handful of others. “Are you leaving too?” asks Jesus. But Peter has made his choice, and he speaks for all of them.  “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Like Joshua, they’ve seen what God has done for them in Christ, and they can’t unsee it. They’ve known what it means to stick close to Jesus; not just a belly full of bread and fish, but a new-found sense of dignity and worth and purpose, and to give it up, however hard the path, would feel like death to them now.  They need him. They need the life that he’s given them.

Living well, living fully, living the lives God wants for us isn’t necessarily complicated, but it’s often difficult. It’s about loving your enemies as well as your friends, praying for those who have it in for you, working for justice and love when everything around you seems unjust and hateful, holding onto hope for others as well as yourself. We can’t do it on our own, however self-reliant we may think we are. We can only do it if we are prepared to admit our need of God’s help. That may come to us through prayer, through reading the Bible, through the love of others, through the worship which draws us close to each other and opens our eyes to what is beyond us too. We’re offered a choice. Will we give up the myth that we can be “self-made”, that it’s good to be “self-made”, the myth which leads us to worship ourselves and our own strength? Or will we learn instead to rejoice in our need of God, and let ourselves be the “God-made” people he wants us to be?

Monday, 20 August 2018

Stories of King Solomon

We thought about wisdom and what it looks like in our All Age Worship yesterday. No sermon to share, as I improvise at All Age Worship, but here are the two stories I told, from the Jewish oral tradition, about King Solomon, the king most associated with wisdom in the Bible.

King Solomon and the Goldsmith

One morning a goldsmith came to the court of King Solomon, very distraught and asking for help. The king was sitting in judgement in his throne room, with his adviser, Beniah, standing by him, when the man came before him. “Great King Solomon, please help me!” Last night a burglar broke through the door of my workshop and stole all my gold. I don’t know what to do, as my family and I will now be destitute!”

“Do you have any idea who might have done this?” asked Solomon.
“No – we were all asleep at home next door.”
“Did your neighbours see or hear anything?”
“No – they were all asleep too”
“Hmm…” said Solomon, as he thought. “It seems, then as if there is no one we can ask about this, no way of finding out what happened…and yet… there was one witness we might talk to”
“Who is that?” said the goldsmith.
“The door itself, of course,” said Solomon, “the door which let the thief through!”
“The door! But you can’t talk to a door”, said the king’s advisor.
“Of course I can. I am Solomon. God has given me the ability to hear the voices of all his creatures. The door is made of wood, from a tree, so of course I can talk to it. I shall be there in one hour from now”

The king summoned his heralds, and ordered them to go out to the area where the goldsmith lived and announce to all around that in one hour they would see the miracle of the king holding conversation with a door.

When he was ready, Solomon set off in a great procession, walking through the streets of Jerusalem until he came to the goldsmith’s workshop.
A great crowd had gathered, as you might expect, to see this wonder. Every man, woman and child in the area was there.

Solomon went up to the door of the goldsmith’s workshop and in a loud voice addressed it.
“Door! I am the great King Solomon. I am distressed to hear that you have failed in the one task you were given, to guard the goldsmith’s gold from thieves. What have you to say?”
Solomon put his ear to the door and nodded sagely.
“The door says it is sorry, and wants to make amends”.
“I am glad to hear, it, door. It is good to make amends. You can do so by helping us to catch the person who has done this terrible deed. Can you tell me his name? Do you know who he is?”
The king listened to the door again, and then said that the door had said it didn’t know his name.
“Can you describe him at all? No? It was too dark to see him clearly? What a shame.”
“Is there anything at all you can tell us that might help us to catch him?”
The king listened then announced to the crowd, “the door says that there is one thing he knows. Last night a spider spun a web across the door at about the head height of a man. So the man who broke in would have had to walk through it, and will certainly have a cobweb on his hat…”

The king turned to face the crowd, and stretched out his royal arm and pointed into it. “Guards ! Arrest that man! Yes, the one in the red cap, the one who has just put his hand up to take it off!”
And the guards rushed into the crowd and seized the man and brought him before the king. The man fell on his knees and begged for mercy, saying that he was sorry for what he had done and would pay all that he had stolen back twice over. The king ordered him to be taken off to jail where he could ponder his crime while he decided what was to be done with him.

The king and his entourage returned to the palace, where his adviser, Beniah, congratulated him on the clever way he had discovered the thief. “Yes, I am glad it came out so well,” said Solomon, “though I am always sorry when I have to lie!” “But such a clever lie, your majesty, to convince everyone that you were talking to a door, and that the door was talking back to you!”
“Oh, no, that was not the lie!”
“What! You mean you really were talking to the door, and it was really talking to you?”
“Oh yes, of course! God did, after all, give me the power to understand the voices of all his creatures! No, the lie was that, actually the door told me right at the beginning who the thief was, and where he was in the crowd, but I realised that I would need the man to confess if we were ever to bring him to justice.”
“But why, your majesty?”
“Well, besides the fact that it is always better for someone to own up to their own sin, our Law insists that it takes two witnesses to convict someone of a crime. And we only had the testimony of one door!”

King Solomon’s Ring

Beniah, the king’s adviser, knew full well how much power he had, so close to throne, and Solomon had noticed that he was a little inclined to throw it around, so he thought of a way in which he could bring him down to size a bit, so he decided to set him a challenge.

“I want you to find me a ring which will make a happy man sad and a sad man happy. You have one month, and if you do not succeed you will lose your place at court.”
Benaiah was alarmed, but not too alarmed. After all, how difficult could it be? Money was no object, and he had a whole month. He went through Jerusalem, visiting every shop, every workshop, and talked those who made and sold rings. Did they know of any such ring? They all scratched their heads and said that they did not.

So Benaiah went down to the harbour and spoke to the captains of all the ships there and the merchants unloading their goods. Did they know of any such ring? But they did not.

Benaiah sent out messages around the kingdom and beyond, but no one could think of anything which fitted the bill. The days passed and the weeks passed, and soon the month was nearly up, and Benaiah was no nearer finding a ring which would do what Solomon had asked than he had been at the start. 

By the night before the deadline, Benaiah was in despair. What could he do? He would lose his job, and his family would be destitute. Benaiah found himself wandering distractedly through the bazaar, past stalls selling spices and fabric and He came at last to a little stall – not even a stall really, just a pitiful array of  bricabrac, cheap trinkets and household goods spread on a cloth on the pavement, with a small boy watching over them. “Can I sell you something, sir?” said the boy. “Alas I don’t think you have what I am looking for,” said Benaiah. “What is that, sir?” “A ring which can make a happy man sad and a sad man happy. My master has said I must find it for him.”. “ I have never heard of any such thing,” said the boy, “but I will ask my grandfather, who makes these things, and see what he thinks. He lives in this little shack here, behind our stall – this is his workshop.“

The boy dived back through the curtain into the shack. A few moments later he came back. My grandfather has prayed to God and he says he knows exactly what you need, and will bring it to you in a few minutes if you care to wait.

Benaiah waited, and sure enough, a few minutes later a frail old man emerged bearing in his hands a package, all wrapped up in a scrap of fabric. “Take this ring to your master and give it to him, but don’t look at it first – you will just have to trust me that it is what you look for.”

So Benaiah, having no other option took the package, and the next morning gave it to Solomon, explaining where it had come from and how he had found it. It looked so poor in its tattered fabric wrapping, and when Solomon unwrapped it, Benaiah didn’t feel any better about it at all. It was just a plain ring, made of some cheap, base metal. But Solomon looked at it closely, and as he did so, he started to weep – great big tears. Benaiah was worried. What on earth had Solomon seen in this ring to make him so sad? And what would happen to Benaiah as a result?

Solomon wordlessly handed the ring to Benaiah, and Benaiah, full of sorrow and worry, peered intently at it. And then Benaiah began to smile. 

There scratched into its surface were the words, “This too shall pass”. 

And Solomon said to him, “Well done Benaiah, you have done what I thought was impossible. I, a happy man with wealth and power beyond imagining have remembered that it is only mine for a season, that one day I will die and it will all pass from me, that old age and death will rob me of all I have. You have made a happy man sad. But I see from your smile that you have also made a sad man – yourself – happy, because your troubles have evaporated since you have succeeded in this challenge. The man from whom you bought this ring is wiser than both of us, and God is wiser than us all. Earthly joys and sorrows all pass, but the joy we find in God is eternal. I shall wear this ring always”. And he did.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Trinity 12 - Bread for Life

For audio version click -

John 6.35, 41-51, Ephesians 4.25-5.2, 1 Kings 19.4-8

Bread for Life
Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus was probably written during his time under house arrest in Rome between approximately 60—62 AD.  Whilst he wasn’t free to move it seems he was allowed to work, receive visitors and send out letters.
I don’t know the answer to this question but if we were to receive a letter to the church in Seal, aimed at correcting and guiding us, what do you think would be the subject matter? There’s no doubt that a lot of great things happen as a result of us coming together as a church, but we also know that there’s always new things to work on or things we could do better, maybe even things we should stop doing.
As a means of communication letters still have a place today. Apart from novelty value which separates them from emails and texts there’s a sense that greater warmth and consideration goes into them and that the nature of sending a piece of paper doesn’t expect an immediate response. After all we often don’t know the time of delivery and can’t request a read receipt. The pace of a letter often feels right to convey important things.
To receive a letter from someone when forcibly separated, who is caring for their wellbeing when imprisoned must have been humbling for the church members in Ephesus, and yet reassuring.
If we received letters telling us that Seal church gets a bit cold in the winter we’d probably think ‘and what are we supposed to do about it’ so it makes sense that Paul writes about matters he knows the people can change for the better.
Parts of Paul’s letters will have been general in their teaching but part will also have been specific, based upon information received from his sources. We would imagine that there must have been some specific problem for Paul to write ‘thieves must give up stealing’ as surely people already knew this to be wrong. The point is that God given energy and skill is being misused and destroying trust in the community, an obvious better use of energy would be to do an honest day’s work and then share something earnt with those in greater need.
Having preached here regularly for almost 17 years now I often sense that I’m saying the same basic message over and again with little new to add, and this is almost certainly true as we see the love of God in Christ manifest itself in so many ways. Yet, hopefully much that we already know causes us to reflect in different contexts and things we know to be true and good become more easily recognisable in others.
The mutual support, sharing of insights and doubts enables us to learn and move forward but there’s also a time and place simply to say what we already know because it is good to hear it articulated and sometimes just to act in a way we know to be right. Some obvious things insult our intelligence such as a road sign in America which said ‘Caution road may be wet when it rains’ but being told that we are loved by God and that he wants us to love one another does need reinforcement as we don’t seem like we are always responding to this. There’s a sense of some of this in Paul’s letters. Sometimes something needs wholesale correction but often it’s about nudging people back onto the right course, reminding them how they should respond, minimising the words and actions that end up wasting time which could have been spent on far better things.
In a general sense Paul seems to be reminding the church body that they each belong to the other in that they share a common purpose and belief and that this should be reflected in their relationships and behaviour toward each other. One constant of a Christian life is to try and keep heading in the right direction. I’m reminded of this each time Anne asks godparents of those being baptised are you heading in the right direction, basically are you looking for good and light? None of us can ever live up to the standards we would like but as mature Christians it is for us to think about and on occasion even lead as to what that direction is rather than follow others unquestioningly. It’s for us to think whether we are making easy, lazy or even selfish choices at times.
Paul’s shows us that sound advice based upon an understanding of God doesn’t have to be complicated. As someone once said ‘last night I ate at an authentic family restaurant, every table had an argument going on.’ Paul knows that despite our best efforts we will argue and get fed up with each other at times, his advice is not to let these things fester, not to let the sun go down, without reflecting and seeking to resolve these things. Otherwise this makes room for disputes to escalate and plans for vengeance to be formed when God wants to see forgiveness and reconciliation.
When we start to join all these things together they offer potential for every one of us to give a glimpse of God’s grace to others.
Our 1st Kings reading for today will mean most to anyone who has ever felt that they have done all they can, that they are worn down, have reached the point of despair and are unsure whether they can carry on. Elijah is at an all-time low as he sits under a tree and asks God to let him die. He has defeated the false prophets of Baal but has been running for his life after the evil queen Jezebel ordered him to be killed.
God sends an angel to feed him bread baked on a stone and a jar of water, making himself real in Elijah’s time of deepest need. I’ve known it myself and others have told me of their sense that sometimes when we are at our saddest, our lowest there can be a sense that God is suffering with us, the food metaphor seems relevant again as he comes alongside and says ‘take, eat,’ it doesn’t necessarily make everything well again but it may be just enough sustenance at that time to continue on life’s journey when we felt like giving up.
The theme of food and feeding continues in John’s gospel where immediately before today’s reading we would find the account of Jesus feeding 5000 people. So straight after this he is now contrasting literal bread with spiritual nourishment for eternity, pointing out that the same God that provided manna in the wilderness for the Jews ancestors has made himself flesh in Jesus Christ.
Unsurprisingly this doesn’t go down well with the Judeans complaining like their ancestors did in the wilderness, refusing to accept what Jesus says because he is a known quantity to them, nothing like a great Messiah that fits their agenda, just a humble man whose family they know.
It’s the first of Jesus ‘I am ‘sayings “I am the bread of life.” Jesus makes it clear that he is offering eternal life with God as he contrasts bread that sustains us daily though eventually we still die, with bread which if we accept it, we will not die saying that ‘the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’  
When I was young I spent a couple of summers as a labourer and tea maker at the Buckingham Palace Garden Parties. I’d unload thousands of cakes from the lorries and make tea in huge vats which was then decanted into little silver tea pots for the guests on the other side. Sometime later I was invited as a guest and whilst I gratefully accepted I also knew that around 30,000 people attended each year. When I bumped into someone I knew, whilst he didn’t quite say it, I could tell that he wondered how someone like me had managed to secure an invitation, as if it devalued his own. The fact is that a wide spectrum of people attend such events so if anyone has a sense of privilege at being invited they are in for a disappointment.
It’s something we need to consider when we accept the bread of life. The invitation has been thrown out to all and we know full well that Jesus wasn’t too choosy who he ate with, dining with rich , poor, sinners and outcasts. There is no first class lounge or executive dining area. No doubt Paul has some of this in mind in his advice to the Ephesians, aimed at equipping church members to live in community with people they might not otherwise choose, something they had better get used to if they are serious about following Jesus.
Here’s one last thought about something we do often. We understand that Jesus offers us a life with him for eternity which we are already living, here, today, now, even though we may have to remind ourselves sometimes. One such opportunity to do this is as we share communion. It draws together our historical understanding of Jesus with all he has done for us and at the same time, fuses it together with the living presence of Christ crucified, the risen Christ. Christ from the past, Christ for today and Christ for the future, brought together in living bread.

Kevin Bright

12th August 2018

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Trinity 10: Growing up

We were delighted to baptise Emily and Evie during our Sunday morning service this week. Congratulations to them both! This is the sermon I preached at their baptism.

 Audio version here

Ephesians 4.1-16, John 6.24-35

“We must grow up”, says St Paul in the Bible reading we heard. He’s writing to a little group of Christians in the very earliest days of the Church, just a couple of decades after Jesus’ death. They weren’t meeting in a fine building like this, but probably in someone’s house and much of their new found faith felt new and strange. The Gospels hadn’t been written yet, so they only knew whatever stories about Jesus were circulating orally. Most of the time they had to puzzle out what it meant to be a Christian as they went along. And because they all came from different faith backgrounds and cultures – some were originally Jewish, others had grown up worshipping pagan gods and goddesses -  they didn’t all think the same way about it. It must have been very confusing to be pitched into a new situation like this. It must have felt like baby steps all the time.

Anyone who’s ever had to do something new – a new job, new house, new responsibilities, new hobbies, new relationships – will know what that feels like. Being in church can feel fairly strange if you’re new to it. If that’s you today, please relax, no one expects you to know what’s going on. Most of us regulars don’t either…! New things always feel strange. Becoming parents for the first time is one of the strangest and most terrifying of the new things we can do, as I’m sure Emily and Evie’s parents could tell us. Children don’t come with a manual or a help menu you can click on. Why are they crying? What do they want? It’s all guess work for a while. And if the early days of parenthood is sometimes strange, then just imagine what it’s like for the child, born into a world where everything is totally unfamiliar. They’ve never seen grass, trees, sky, never felt the wind blowing. As they grow they constantly experience new things – new sights and sounds, new textures – sand between their toes, waves crashing on a beach – and new people too. One of the joys of being around children is watching those first encounters - you get to see the world as if it was new again – but for the child it can be scary. How do they know what is safe and what is dangerous? No wonder children sometimes baulk at new experiences or won’t try new food.

But St Paul tells his readers that they should “no longer be children”.  They need to develop the wisdom of adulthood to cope with a world in which there are many dangers, many challenges. In particular he wants them to have a grown up faith, one which they own, one which makes sense to them, one which connects with their real lives, not one where they unquestioningly accept things others have told them. They especially need that adult faith in their situation, because it was dangerous to be a Christian at this time. The Romans had crucified Jesus, and they were killing and persecuting his followers too. But we don’t grow up simply by wanting to. Growing is a process. It takes time and work. There’s no way of leapfrogging over the effort of learning new things, the fear that goes with trying new things out and of getting them wrong sometimes too. It’s an exciting process, but there’s no magic about it. That’s why it’s important that we realise that what we are doing for Emily and Evie is just a first step. Baptism – Christening – isn’t the end of the journey. It’s just the beginning.

And to sustain Emily and Evie and all of us who want a grown up faith, our Bible readings today tell us we will need two things. The first is company. St Paul knew that those Ephesian Christians needed each other. They needed to be like a body, knitted together by its ligaments and tendons and muscles.. Each one had gifts to give to the others. Emily and Evie have gifts to give to us, but all  those here have gifts to give to them too, the gift of love, of prayer and wisdom and experience, the gifts we have gained by learning from our mistakes, in the hope that might mean they won’t have to make them too. Here at Seal church there is a whole community of people who care about your children, and about you, their parents. We want to help them, and you. We want to get to know you and support you. Feel free to drop in on us at any time, to join in with anything, to ask for support, to make suggestions, to be part of our family. We need each other – all of us – if we’re to learn and to grow into the people God wants us to be. Christian faith isn’t a faith for rugged individualists, who think they can and should go it alone; it’s for those who are willing to discover the joy of belonging to others and sharing life’s ups and downs with them.

So, we need each other, says St Paul. That’s the first thing.

The second thing we need if we are going to grow up in faith comes in our second reading, from John’s Gospel, which I’ve just read.  It is food. Emily and Evie won’t get far in life if you don’t feed them and you wouldn’t dream of letting them go hungry physically. But as the people in the story find out, physical food isn’t all we need. This passage comes just after a very famous miracle, the feeding of the 5000. Jesus has fed a huge crowd with five barley loaves and two small fish, the packed lunch of a small boy in the crowd who decides to share it with others. Such a small amount ought to go nowhere in feeding such a large number, but according to the story, they are all full up by the end, and there are twelve baskets of leftovers.  Make what you will of that, but the crowd were pretty impressed by it. There was such a thing as a free lunch, it seemed. And if there had been one free lunch, perhaps there would be another one. So when Jesus moves on the crowd trail after him. But Jesus tells them that it’s not just the bread that fills their bellies they need. More important than that is the bread that will nurture their souls, bread from heaven.

And what is this bread from heaven?  It’s the bread that he brings through his life and his teaching, through his death and his resurrection, through the things he says and does, and the way he lives. This is what will truly nourish them. For Christians this whole idea is summed up in the bread we share at Communion , as we will do later in this service. It’s a weekly reminder that we need to feed on Christ. We need bread from heaven too. Those who first followed Jesus were nourished by Jesus’ example. As they followed him and shared his life, they learned to love their enemies, trust God, see themselves more clearly, to serve others rather than grasping for power, just as he had done.  As they saw him crucified and raised from death, they learned that God was with them even when everything seems to be going wrong and falling to pieces, that there could always be new life and a new beginning, however unlikely it seemed, that hatred and suspicion don’t have the final word, the last laugh. These things were like rich food which kept them strong, satisfying hungers far deeper than the hunger of a tummy rumbling for bread and fish. And those who follow Christ today still find that. When we are hungry for meaning and purpose, hungry for resilience to get through tough times, hungry for strength to keep on loving when it is hard to do so, we can turn to Christ and to one another and find the food we need.

Today as we baptise Emily and Evie, we pray that they’ll grow up to be the people God is calling them to be. We pledge our support for them. We offer them our company on the journey, and we pray too that they will be nourished with the food that they truly need – Christ himself – so that they will never go hungry.