South of the Hugh River, NT 2016

One Man's Web

I travelled from Elizabeth across to Bright, hoping to travel up through the snow and across to Bairnsdale. Not everything went according to plan! I did this trip using a trailer, and have pretty much decided I'm over trailers. Read on >>>

It's still about bread... (You can listen to this here.)

In Mark 7, I imagine the Pharisees are gathered around Jesus in the market place; after all, in the previous few lines it says,

56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. (Mark 6:56) (I owe this observation to Elizabeth Webb.)

The word for gathered is  (συνάγονται) which has the same root as the word for synagogue, (συναγωγῇ) but these are people from Jerusalem who look askance at the loose practices of the provinces. So, Jesus is healing in the market place, and it is there that they attack him. They seek to correct and purify his synagogues— his gatherings.

This story (or pericope) follows on from the feeding earlier in Mark Chapter 6:30-44,  and follows our weeks long diversion by the Lectionary into the Gospel of John,  where we looked at Communion, at fully eating what Jesus gives us— eating him whole and gnawing on the bones, as it were. What is translated in the NRSV of Mark 7:2 as "eating with defiled hands," is actually not simply the word eating. The text says: eating of the bread,  (ἐσθίουσιν ⸃ τοὺς ἄρτους ) which may simply be an idiomatic way of saying eating, but the word bread is there in the text, nonetheless.

How will we eat the Eucharist— the Bread? Will we eat with properly washed hands? Understand: this is not about the minister using hand-wash before breaking the bread of the Eucharist, which is wise hygiene. This is about proper purity, proper piety:  Will we eat Communion the right way? What is the right way? Who will tell us; who will decide for us? … Read on >>>>

Listen here

It's an Australian sermon, so for folks elsewhere, it will help to know that a tradie is a trades-person. And to know that Bill Shorten is the Leader of the Opposition, often laughed as a bit of a lame duck, who is currently enjoying the spectacle of the Government falling over each other to destroy themselves— a "new" Prime Minister was been elected as I wrote this sermon. I'll let you use the internet to understand Steven Bradbury and that august Australian journal The Betoota Advocate.

Anyway, the sermon for John 6:56-71

As I pushed up the pin to lock the hall doors on Wednesday, I noticed that there is a stain in the ceiling. Let's imagine that we look at it after church this morning, and we decide it's a new stain.

That means only one thing.

We can argue and discuss about where things might be broken, or when it happened— all that— but that stain means there is a hole in the roof, somewhere.

If there is a stain in the ceiling, there is a hole in the roof. There is a leak.

I want to say— and you can talk to me about this over lunch— that when a congregation has enemies, when a congregation has us and them somewhere in its thinking, whether it's about us and them within us, or us and them where the themare outside, then there is a leak. And no matter how we look at it, no matter how we argue it, or try to describe it, that leak always leads back to violence against other people. The great leak in the human roof, what we call original sin, always has to do with violence. (Violence is the sign of that sin.)

So if the stains I saw are new, we'll have to get a tradie up in the ceiling.

After a while he comes down from above us, and says, "Yep there's a hole alright, we'll have to fix it." ... Read on >>>>

from the post:

Whoever eats the bread from heaven, the bread which is Jesus' sarx (flesh) will live forever, says Jesus. When people are finding it hard to hear this (it's translated as accept this) Jesus asks, "What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?" (6:63) In other words, the real scandal around flesh is not that Jesus is the real manna/bread from heaven instead of Moses' manna/bread.  The real scandal is that Jesus— flesh— will ascend to heaven. And not only that— heaven is where he was before! God the Word comes to us in flesh! The NRSV hides a devastating pun:  the Gospel which begins with "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," now says in verse sixty, about all this flesh, "This Word (ὁ λόγος) is difficult, who can hear it?" (This is deliberate; verse 68 uses a different word for the words of eternal life.) ... Read on >>>>

As a nation... Israel had a meal. A lamb was sacrificed and eaten by each family. They remembered the time of the escape from slavery in Egypt when the blood of the lamb was smeared on the doorposts and the lintels, and the Destroyer passed over the houses of the Hebrew people. And, at last, Pharaoh let them go. Eating the Passover was a part of being Hebrew, a part of being Jesus' people, a way of remembering who they were. It defined them.

And we might say to a visitor here, that something similar happens with Communion. It's related. But it's not just a remembering of that first Passover. When we eat the bread, it remembers Jesus. Living like Jesus, following Jesus, is what gives us life. Jesus died for us, and this means that death passes over us— it means death cannot touch us. We are free of the fear of death. Yes, we die, but death does not have the last word.  This meal defines us.

And then...  along comes John.

John, in the reading we have heard today, uses truly offensive language. I'm not sure we can appreciate just how offensive it must have sounded in its time.

In The Gospel of Luke (22), where Jesus says this is my body, Luke uses the word soma. John says flesh— sarx,  which is rather more like saying, "This is my meat."... Read on >>>>

"Meet the Ferrones... this everyday Australian family has set out on an extraordinary time travelling adventure." So begins each decade of Back in Time for Dinneran infotainment-reality-TV-cooking-show blend which, nonetheless, displays moments of startling humanity. In the 1990's episode, the family are the guests of Chef Michael Tai, whose own family were refugees from Vietnam.

Michael takes Olivia, a delightfully unfiltered ten year old, to choose a fish, which he nets for her from the restaurant tank. She returns to the table, full of glee: "I got to pick a fish! I decided I would name it Jeff!" And then Jeff comes to the table, neatly sliced. "I'd like to take a moment to say a few words about our friend Jeff who sacrificed his life for our dining pleasure," says Mum Carol, discomforted, yet inured to life as we live it. (25:50 minutes in. A very small and poor quality clip)

But Olivia is horrified. Deeply shocked. Unable to laugh off the horror of what has been done. The family watch as Michael spoons the fish into the soup— "He'll taste delicious!" someone cries. No one notices Olivia's whimper, or sees the trauma on her face, and the hands over her ears: Horror.

What is our Olivia moment? When do we see; when do our faces contort in grief and horror at what we have done? Life all comes together for Olivia at that moment; this is revelation... Read on >>>>

and all the men and women eating bread... (Shakespeare, mostly)

From Max's funeral:

A while back, Max said to me that he had realised a few nights previously that this was the night he would die. He had felt terribly ill—the worst he had been, so he got up, wrote some messages on the little whiteboard in his room in the nursing-home and went back to bed, and waited.

"In the morning," he said, with that classic Max smile, "I realised I was still here, so I got up and rubbed out the whiteboard, and got ready for breakfast."  Something about death had lost its power over him.

You can listen to this sermon here.

Gospel: John 6:35-51

It says that when Jesus fed the people in the wilderness, the Passover was near. (6:4) And now, at the end of our reading today, we hear that, "Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." (6:51)

We have a mixed metaphor, if you like; meat and bread. Way back in Exodus, Moses gave people the word from God that whoever killed the lamb, and spread its blood upon the door posts and the lintel of the house, and ate its flesh, would have the angel of death pass-over... their house, and their first born child would not die. (Exodus 12) So eat of the Passover lamb and you will not die, death will not touch you. And Jesus says we can eat of the bread which comes down from heaven and not die. (6:50) And the bread from heaven is his flesh. (51)

So, of course, if you take this literally, somehow the bread on the table today turns into his body, and then we are literally eating him. It's no wonder that there were accusations of cannibalism made about the church!

Or are we being invited to step into a metaphor? ... Read on >>>>

Listen to the podcast.

There's a large billboard around the corner from our church. One of Australia's richest men, still hungry for something more from life, smiles down on us, hoping his populism will buy him votes at the next election. His beaming face is no match for that of Max, who used to meet us at the church door each Sunday. Max was not hungry. Instead, Max had the ability to be content wherever he found himself. He would greet people at the door, and sit with them for morning tea. His good humour and storytelling was gentle and respectful— he knew when to listen. He built people up. He built up the church garden, and spent long hours in the Op Shop and its store shed, politely listening to the concerns of his family, and the congregation, about working too hard, and then ignoring us all.  His son said, "Dad figured he may as well die in the garden instead of sitting at home on his own."

Jesus said ... ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Max lived that. He had seen and believed. And it made him an ordinary and, therefore, profound, example of the grace of God in flesh. All the richness of God is for ordinary people like us.

How did Max get to this place? What made him a person characterised by graciousness rather than bitterness, a person generous rather than grasping, a person at ease instead of despairing?... Read on >>>>

The people of Jesus time expected that God would send another prophet like Moses. Indeed, Moses himself had once said, " The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet... I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command..." (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18)

And the people at the Feeding of 5,000 understood this. It says that "When the people saw the sign that [Jesus] had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’" (John 6:14)

And yet the part of that crowd which came across the lake in the boats from Tiberias seem curiously blind. They have seen the feeding, they have eaten, and they want more food. And like Jesus, they know what God has said: "one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." (Deut 8:3)He's quoting the Old Testament, after all; Deuteronomy Chapter 8. And we expect they knew the tradition, the midrash on scripture, that said  "As was the first redeemer so was the final redeemer; as the first redeemer caused the manna to fall from heaven, even so shall the second redeemer cause the manna to fall." (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1.9)

So how could they not see that Jesus had done something even greater than Moses!?? In the old stories of Moses, the manna would decay if you took more than you needed. In the sign that Jesus had done, the bread was collected up in baskets so that nothing would be lost. It did not spoil and, what's more, there were twelve baskets, a sign that the broken 12 tribes of Israel— only two were left— would be restored!

How could these people who had been there, who had eaten— how could they not see!? What was making them so blind?... Read on >>>>

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