This sermon was preached at our Sunday morning service on 12th August. The Gospel reading that morning was John 6:35,41-51.
Sometimes in church, it’s like we’re experiencing a mass case of deja vu, isn’t it? Week after week, we see the same people, use the same liturgy and pray for the same things. I’m also pretty sure that the other month, we sang the same hymns two weeks in a row, too... that might have been an actual case of deja vu for me, though...
Today, though, I’d like to reassure you that if you felt we’d repeated our Gospel reading from last week, you’re not quite experiencing deja vu. No; today’s reading is not the same as last week’s, but it is remarkably similar. And there’s a reason for that. For a number of weeks, now - since the end of July - we’ve been working our way through chapter 6 of John’s Gospel. And it really seems that John had a bee in his metaphorical bonnet about one topic in particular. About bread. And, if you read through chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, it really does sound like John is repeating himself. John chapter 6 is all about that bread. Bread, bread, bread. He was - if you like - on a roll. (Feel free to groan).
|It's apparently the best thing, though I think that was yesterday.|
Now, that doesn’t just make you feel like you’re experiencing deja vu, it also makes it somewhat tricky for preachers to come up with something different to say each week. And, if you think I’ve got a hard job today, spare a thought for Huw and Alex, who are preaching next week, and the week after, while we’re still working our way through John chapter 6. By then, we’ll all be ‘breaded’ out! Don’t worry, though, we change the subject in September. Phew.
But, actually, my job today is a bit easier than I’ve made out. Because, despite all appearances, today isn’t about bread. It’s actually about something else. Today, Jesus does the bait and switch.
In today’s Gospel, we re-join that 5000-strong crowd after that miraculous feeding of every single one of them with 5 rolls and 2 fish. And today, they’ve come back for more of the same; they want yesterday’s miracle today. They want their deja vu.
But Christ says no. Not today. That was yesterday, and today is a new day.
And the crowd do not like that. Who does this Jesus think he is? They saw him grow up; they knew his father (a dramatic irony if ever there was one, by the way. They might’ve known Joseph the carpenter, but did they know Jesus’ Father?)
At any rate, the crowd are angry. If Jesus could multiply bread for a hungry crowd yesterday, what right does he have to hold back today? These people need bread; they’ll die without it.
They’ll die anyway, says Jesus. Their ancestors did, and they ate actual manna from heaven. If that didn’t give them eternal life, what good will bog-standard bread do them?
“Do you want bread?”, says Jesus, “I am the bread!” And, like some scene in a cheesy Hollywood film, he tells the crowd to follow him if they want to live. Don’t just hunt for bread, he says; Consume Me.
But he is not what the crowds want. If Jesus won’t satisfy their temporary hunger, they’d prefer to find someone who will. They don’t want eternal life tomorrow; they want to fill their bellies today. They want bread; and they want it now. No - in fact, they want it yesterday.
They don’t want a Jesus who changes things, who preaches a hard message, who will tell them ‘no’. They want the Jesus they grew up with, the one they knew how to handle, the one who they could run to his mother and to Joseph about should he do something they did not like, the one who gave them bread. Maybe not circuses, like their Roman overlords, but bread. They want their deja vu.
What about you? What Jesus do you want? The one you grew up with? Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, fair-haired and blue-eyed, lying helpless in the manger? The one who constantly and consistently agrees with us and confirms our prejudices? The one who roamed England’s green and pleasant land?
Or do you want the one we heard about today? The one who says no, who does not bend to our will? The stubborn middle-eastern Jew, who says hard things and asks us to give everything up, and to take up our cross and to die to ourself, and to follow him? The one who breaks religious laws and hangs out with crooks and all sorts of various dodgy folk, who heals the sick and frees the prisoners and finds the lost? The one who promises eternal life?
Both are on offer. Both have always been on offer. We can have the Jesus who fits in with us, who we made in our image... or, we can have the Jesus who - as part of that divine trinity - made us in His image.
Now, here at St Michael’s, we don’t do altar calls. But we do come to the altar to receive a blessing, or the wine and the bread. When you approach today - if you approach today - it’s up to you: you can take that blessing or the wine and the bread as you would do any other Sunday, and go back to your seats, ready to do it all the same again next week and the week after, and the week after that... or you can choose that harder path, that more difficult Jesus, and eat the bread of eternal life, consuming Christ, fully taking him in until he is the centre of your being.
It was never about bread. It was always about Him. And now, it’s up to you. Do you want the Christ who does new things, or do you want deja vu?