Sunday 8th August 2021, 10th Sunday after Trinity

August 16, 2021

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Revd Canon Dr Mark Collinson

John 6: 35, 41-51

[35] Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

[41] At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” [42] They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

[43] “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. [44] “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. [45] It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’[d] Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. [46] No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. [47] Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. [48] I am the bread of life. [49] Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. [50] But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. [51] I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Olympic Team Jesus

When Jesus says ‘the one who believes has eternal life’ I must confess, I’m not quite sure that it’s very clear what he means. What does Jesus mean when he talks about being the bread of life? When he talks about those who eat the ‘bread that comes down from heaven will live forever’ what kind of living forever is he talking about?

As a younger Christian, I used to think that eternal life refers only to being with God in heaven after you die – eternal life is everlasting life – living forever with God.

I wonder whether we sometimes see salvation in Christ as a divine life insurance policy? If Jesus is who he says he is, and we all face judgement after death, isn’t it worth taking out a policy that guarantees a payout of eternal life – you know, in case God really does exist? So sometimes Christians end up paying the insurance premiums by attending church services. Once a month should just about do it, but don’t miss out on too many payments, or else the policy becomes invalid.

This kind of transactional Christianity can easily lead us to think that God owes us if we’ve kept up our side of the contract. We’ve been to church, paid the premiums, we’ve covered the risk. But when tragedy strikes, perhaps when we face the loss of someone we love deeply, we feel as though God hasn’t kept his side of the bargain. That can trigger the breakdown of our faith – and we realise it’s not worth paying the premiums any more – we stop going to church.

If this is how our Christianity operates functionally, then I suspect we’re missing out on what Jesus means when he talks about eternal life. Eternal life isn’t so much about a quantitative life we live in the future after death, but it’s more about a quality of life we live now in Christ.

I’ve so enjoyed watching the coverage of the Olympics:

 

  • Greysia Polli and Aprayani Rahayu, stormed through to Gold as the unseeded Indonesian women’s badminton doubles;
  • little Sky Brown, the 13 year old skateboarding medallist when she described her final run as ‘super sick’ – and she said, ‘all the girls were ripping it’;
  • and Karsten Warholm the Norwegian in the 400m Hurdles when he took nearly a second off the World Record and ripped open his running shirt like some Superman.

 

The joy on their faces of recognising they are Olympic champions, in the peak of physical fitness, the absolute best at their sport, these are pictures of fullness of life.

They are on the mountain top –the best in the world – could life ever get better than winning at the Olympics? It’s that moment when everything comes together.

Once they stand on that podium and get their medal, they are Olympian medallists – joining a long line of athletes, unique throughout the generations, going back to an ancient tradition. They retain that honour, that status for the rest of their lives.

Finding our salvation in Christ and beginning to live eternal life is a bit like entering a unique realm, a special community of people. It’s a community of people with a common bond – which stretches between the generations. Eternal life is about beginning to live in the kingdom of God as the community of God, and believing in Christ is when that life becomes inaugurated in our lives. We stand on the podium and take the honour of entering that exalted and special community.

The Jews who are grumbling about Jesus in our gospel reading weren’t looking for a divine insurance policy of life after death – they were looking for the kingdom of the messiah to impact their lives in the midst of Roman suppression. The references in our bible reading to the manna in the wilderness refer to the defining moment of the Exodus, when God provided salvation to his people – he freed them from the oppression of slavery in Egypt and led them to the Promised Land – he provided for their every need, by giving them manna to eat in the desert. They relied on God’s provision every morning – when they collected this white flakey stuff, and baked it into bread cakes. The Jews can’t believe that little ol’ Jesus from Nazareth, whose mum & dad they know, is comparing himself to their greatest prophet Moses, who brought a new age to the Israelites.

When Jesus says ‘I am the bread of life’ he’s saying, ‘I am taking you into a new realm, the kingdom is coming, you can rely on me for everything you need. I am giving you a new quality of life – the age to come, the heavenly age of the future, is available to you now.’

This is what salvation is – eternal life, salvation, living in the kingdom of God – all these terms are interchangeable, meaning the same thing. When we ‘believe in Jesus’, we are entering his kingdom, and relying on his provision for us. The staple food we eat is ‘Jesus’. Our eternal life orientates around absorbing as much of his life as we can into our lives.

In closing, I was struck by the words Laura Muir said, after she won silver in the 1500m; ‘That last 100m I was so scared, I thought someone would pass me and I’d come 4th, and I gave it absolutely everything.’ Well, Jesus gave it absolutely everything – not just for himself, but for all of us. We gain everything about living in this new age of the kingdom through Christ.

And here’s the crucial difference between my illustration of Olympians and salvation in Jesus Christ – Olympians make the Team GB through hard work, determination, and endless repetitive training. We make Team Jesus, the team of the kingdom, through his merits, his dedication to the world, his commitment to us and through his giving everything of himself on the cross – we come with no credibility, no personal bests, no perfect dives, no perfect round. He wins, and we get to stand on the podium. This is how Jesus gives his life to the world, through his own giving of himself, that we recognise as we share in Holy Communion.

Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for the victory of your life death and resurrection that opens up to us the community of your kingdom. As we eat the bread of life in Holy Communion, send your Holy Spirit upon us that we may live the quality of life that you give us.