Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Author: Rob (Page 1 of 102)

Jesus, Bread of Life – A sermon for Proper 13B

[This post is the transcript of a sermon I preached this morning at the local Anglican church I attend.]

Today’s Gospel reading is John 6:24-35. You can read the text here.

Introduction

One of my most deeply ingrained childhood memories has to do with bread. My mum went to work part-time when I was six or seven years old; before that, she would bake fresh bread every single day. So whether I’d been playing out with friends or was coming home from school, as I opened the door I was always greeted by the same thing: the wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread. Even now, the smell of fresh bread immediately takes me back to the house I lived in as a child, and evokes strong feelings of home, care and provision.

In the mid-to-late 2000s, we lived in France for a few years. On our first Christmas in France, we went out for a walk on the morning of Christmas Day, and were astonished to see the local bakery open, and people queuing out the door to get their fresh bread for the day. To us, this was an unexpected sight because in our experience, shops stayed closed on Christmas Day. But fresh bread is so central to French culture that the idea of not being able to get it on any given day – even Christmas Day – was and is simply inconceivable.

Bread is, of course, a key theme in today’s Gospel reading, which culminates in the first of Jesus’ seven great “I am” statements given to us in John’s Gospel: “I am the bread of life.”

But before we think about what it means that Jesus is the bread of life, let’s take a few moments to review the events leading up to this statement.

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Jesus’ prayer for his disciples – a sermon for Easter 7B

[This post is the transcript of a sermon for the seventh Sunday of Easter I preached this morning at the local Anglican church I attend.]

Today’s Gospel reading is John 17:6-19. You can read the text here.

Introduction

To tell you the truth, when I saw the text for today’s Gospel, I felt a bit intimidated about preaching from it. Of the four Gospels that we have in our Bible, John’s is easily the most complex; and this particular section of John’s Gospel is arguably the most theologically dense and, in some ways, the most cryptic of all.

So you’ll probably be relieved to know that I’m not even going to attempt to give you any kind of blow-by-blow exposition of the text. What I want to do instead is to give you a bit of context about the text itself – what kind of text it is, and where it fits into the overall gospel story – and then we’ll briefly see whether we can pull out one or two key points from this prayer that Jesus prays for his disciples and explore how they might apply to us today.

Context

So, what kind of text do we have in our Gospel reading today? Well, this passage from John 17 forms part of an extended monologue by Jesus that starts at the beginning of chapter 14 and runs right the way to the end of chapter 17. Scholars refer to this part of John’s Gospel as the Farewell Discourse, and this kind of farewell speech is a well established genre in Jewish literature. So one of the functions of this long discourse is to signal to readers that Jesus is saying his last and most important words to his friends before he moves into what he knows is going to be the final act of this great drama that is his life, death and resurrection.

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How Jesus comes to us – a sermon for Easter 2B

[This post is the transcript of a sermon for the second Sunday of Easter I preached this morning at the local Anglican church I attend.]

Today’s Gospel reading is John 20:19-31. You can read the text here.

Introduction

Picture the scene. A week ago, joyous crowds thronged the streets as Jesus rode into Jerusalem, hailed as Israel’s king. Expectations were high: surely this would be the culminating moment when Jesus would finally make his move and go from being a backwoods preacher to restoring Israel’s greatness and visibly ushering in the kingdom! But now, a week later, he’s dead and gone and the disciples are in hiding. Where did it all go wrong?

The state the disciples were in

From our twenty-first century vantage point, we can easily misjudge what the disciples must have been thinking and feeling at this point. Because we know how the story ends, it would be easy for us to assume they were hopeful and full of eager anticipation. But that would be a very misguided assumption.

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Religious bathwater, moral baby

I have recently become aware of a growing trend among some Christians in favour of open marriage, sometimes also referred to as polyamory.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines polyamory as “the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved”. The idea is that a married couple may mutually agree that either or both spouses are free to pursue relationships – including sexual intimacy – with other people, while remaining married to each other.

It seems obvious to me that such an arrangement is fraught with potential difficulties. Putting in the effort required to maintain one committed relationship is a huge enough undertaking; I seriously doubt most people’s ability to successfully pull it off with more than one. There is the potential for jealousy, rivalry, anger and all kinds of other troublesome emotions to arise within any given relationship; how much more when one is involved in multiple relationships, especially given the human tendency to make comparisons? And I could go on.

Of course, proponents of polyamory will produce counter-arguments in response to just about any concern you may care to raise. However, the purpose of this post is not to lay out a solid argument against polyamory.

So why am I raising this issue at all?

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The glory we seek

This morning’s Old Testament lectionary reading included the following verse:

“I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishment I inflict and the hand I lay on them.” (Ezekiel 39:21)

The context: twenty-five years into an exile that would eventually last seventy years, Israel is still trying to make sense of the disaster that has come upon it. The Prophet explains that it is God’s punishment for disobedience, and thus a display of His glory.

What struck me is how glory – even God’s glory – is directly equated with the ability to inflict punishment. The greater the punishment that can be inflicted, the greater the glory.

How little things have changed. Shock and awe, fire and fury… As nations, we obsess over our ability to deliver punishment, and the more devastating, the better. And, of course, we are the righteous agents of God as we do so!

Here is a clue as to how Jesus understood glory:

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:23–25)

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

[Image: Stephen Oung]

The pinnacle of theology

Over the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, reading and writing about theology. The nature of God, the person and work of Jesus, the cross, the atonement, salvation, scripture, prayer, suffering… all these and more are topics I’ve pondered and wrestled with. And no doubt I’ll continue to do so.

But…

All my reflecting, wrestling and theologising has led me to also wonder what’s the point of it all. What’s at the top of this theological mountain I’m trying to climb?

As I’ve thought about this question, I’ve realised I already know the answer. And, despite the many theological rabbit trails down which one may wander, it’s really very simple.

Ready?

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Book review: Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God by Brian Zahnd

Today I have the privilege of posting some brief thoughts on the latest new book from Brian Zahnd, titled Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, published by WaterBrook and released on 15 August.

Those who have followed my blog or my Facebook posts for any length of time will be no stranger to Zahnd. A veteran pastor of 35 years’ standing, in recent years he has become a prolific and increasingly important voice for those who tire of dogmatic fundamentalism and its ugly implications, but who are unwilling to simply throw in the towel and walk away from the faith altogether. As a result, Zahnd is at the forefront of a rising tide of prophetic voices whose mission is to help Christians and non-Christians alike rediscover – in the words of the book’s subtitle – “The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News”. (I have previously reviewed two other books by Zahnd: A Farewell To Mars and Water to Wine).

In a way, Sinners bears some similarity with Zahnd’s previous book Water to Wine: Some of my Story, in that it starts with what he once believed as a zealous young Jesus freak and tracks his theological trajectory from there towards a much broader, deeper and more beautiful faith. The key difference, though, is that where Water to Wine was essentially a biographical narrative that served as a framework for Zahnd’s theological growth, Sinners is unashamedly a work of theology – by which I mean that its focus is theological, not biographical, and it is structured into broad theological topics, including some “hot potatoes”.

A quick word about the book’s title, whose resonance may escape those less familiar with the history of American evangelicalism. In 1741, revivalist preacher Jonathan Edwards preached what would become his most famous sermon, titled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, in which he expounded, often in lurid terms,  on fallen man’s utter depravity and God’s deserved utter contempt for humankind. The sermon went on to become a Puritan classic, and was without doubt foundational and extremely influential in later American revivalism and evangelicalism more broadly. (For a flavour of Edwards’s sermon, read Zahnd’s book: he quotes a sample of excerpts from it in the first chapter.)

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