Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
Pentecost 12 (B)
12 August 2018
The great lectionary diversion
As basic pattern, each year over a three-year cycle, we focus on the witness of one Gospel to Jesus:
Matthew in Year A
Mark in Year B
Luke in Year C
Mark is much shorter than Matthew and Luke, so round about this time we have a lectionary diversion as we spend a month in John 6. Right now we are at the mid-point of a 5 week series of readings from John 6.
For preachers, 5 weeks in John 6 can feel a bit like the 40 years in the wilderness. It just seems to go on forever.
There are many points of interest in these continuous excerpts from John 6, but not much that I feel drawn to preach about.
I might have preached from the Old Testament, but there we are in another series of readings as the lectionary walks us through the destructive dynamics of the Davidic dynasty. We have abuse of power, sexual abuse, assassination, rebellion, and murder. So much for the Bible teaching good family values!
There is always the NT reading, and sometimes I would choose that option. These five weeks could have been a good time for a sermon series on Ephesians!
However, today I want to reflect on some aspects of our life together as a faith community.
Bread from heaven?
Let me start, oddly enough, with the Gospel for today.
You will have noticed there was a tone of conflict in the passage we heard.
Jesus is portrayed by John as claiming to have come down from heaven, and also to have been around in the times of Abraham and Moses. Naturally, the religious leaders of the day find this to be some kind of weird mix: part nonsense, and part scandal.
For sure Jesus did not walk around telling people he was 2,000 years old, and then some. He does not do that in Mathew, Mark or Luke. It is a feature of John’s Gospel, and not a memory of how Jesus himself actually spoke.
Let’s leave aside for now the question of why John will have created this scene. Maybe we can look at this in a Dean’s Forum at some stage. For now, let me pick up the core idea at the heart of the passage: in Jesus we find a wisdom that transforms our life.
So the first question is whether we really believe that? Is this something we take seriously?
I am not asking if we take this bread of heaven language literally, but whether we take it seriously?
If we do take it seriously, then that means we actually believe that we have something of immense value for people’s lives. In Jesus, and in our faith more generally, we find the spiritual wisdom that we need to live as people of hope and compassion.
Is this wisdom some kind of secret knowledge we hope to keep for ourselves, or are we wanting to share it with anyone who might be interesting in knowing about it?
If we are wanting to share our faith and see more people joining us in the life of the church, then we are going to have to change how we do church.
Focus on families and children
One of the major changes we will need to make is to get the faith out, rather than trying to get the people in.
This is true for people of all ages, but it is especially so for families with children.
We are making ministry with families and children a major focus for our work in the next couple of years, and hopefully much longer.
As I say in this week’s bulletin, this can be done with a mix of gathered events and dispersed experiences, with the objective of increasing people’s involvement in personal religious practices and home-based spirituality.
In other words, if we can take the faith to them (using our digital technologies) then—in time—some of them will gather for occasional events to celebrate the things they have been learning and doing at home, and some of them will become more active in the life of the parish.
This will also require us to be genuinely inclusive and to modify our Sunday morning church services to be more accessible to people with very little background in the ways of the church. We have already made a start on this with the 9.00am service time, but will need to keep looking for ways to make our Sunday worship more
Providing resources for lifelong faith practices in the home and in people’s lives outside of church is a key element of this strategy. If we can develop religious practice in the home and help people to develop their own personal spiritual practices, then we become partners in their lives rather than an institution seeking their time, their energy, and their money.
The Cathedral website now provides links to selected resources to support parents in shaping the faith dimension of their families as well assisting them in the critical role of effective parenting.
Making our “bread from heaven” available and relevant to people in their everyday busy lives is going to take time, wisdom and patience.
It will be the major focus of the Associate Priest (Children, Families and Youth) that we hope to appoint from January. But it starts now, because right now there are families and children and youth and adults and older people who need this “bread that comes down from heaven”.
We are starting right now with small baby steps, but with high hopes for the future.
Come with us on the journey, support us with your gifts and your prayers, and by making this Cathedral the friendliest and most welcoming place it can be.