Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 1 August 2021.
• First Reading: Exodus 16: 2-4, 9-15 (The people grumbled – manna in the desert)
• Psalm 78: 23-29
• Epistle: Ephesians 4: 1-16 (Unity in the body of Christ – variety in its ministry)
• Gospel: John 6: 24-35 (I am the bread of life)
I think that we have all been in situations when a relationship of one kind or another has broken down or has failed to develop as hoped.
It could be at home, at work, during education or romantically. Whatever it was, for at least some time, things in our lives failed to work and some aspects may even have broken down.
In this sense, we can very rarely live in total isolation, and even our relationship with our water and power suppliers have to operate at some level of practical communication.
And if this is true within our personal, family and working lives then how much more does it apply to our spiritual lives. By this I mean not only relationships within the church, but with God.
In the Exodus, the relations between Moses and the children of Israel were fraught. Their sense of the presence of God was limited while for Moses it was absolutely the centre of his life.
When the people complained he took it personally and often in desperation, he would take it to the Lord in prayer. When they faced any misfortune or inconvenience, they took it out on Moses.
Yet even if the children of Israel had a tense relationship with Moses, the Lord trusted him and spoke with him directly and personally. Moses’ problems were the Lord’s and abuse of Moses was also a token of lack of faith on God, even when His works were already there to be seen as the Exodus unfolded.
In our lesson, it was lack of food, so the Lord promised bread from heaven and quails – feeding them in the desert where there was no food to be had.
In one sense, they had to go through the desert in order that they could know for themselves the power of God to meet them in their need: the Lord and none other.
Even when the people were complaining, God was determined to let His glory be seen, so that the people might know that God was indeed real and no carved image or royal cult.
And so where there was nothing that the people could do for themselves, God met them in their need, and did it bountifully and over many years as they lived in the wilderness.
In the very details of survival, God was there with His people.
In the gospel, Jesus had also faced a people in need. He fed them with the multiplied bread and fish, in a place where there were no other supplies.
In this He also placed Himself as a successor to Moses and so He reasoned with the people who were following Him.
Some wanted to hear His teaching. Others wanted to see signs and wonders, the healing of the sick and the raising of the dead. And yet others, having seen Jesus’ miracles and heard His teaching wanted to get rid of the Romans and their corrupt puppet kings, and place Jesus at the head of government.
This was a temptation that Jesus had already faced in the wilderness above the River Jordan where He had been baptized by John. Here Jesus was personally presented with the prospect of political power by the One who had it in his gift to bestow it – Satan.
But Jesus knew that this would only be short-lived, as His body would eventually age and die, and what then? If He had disobeyed His Father’s mission for the eternal salvation of the world in favour of a temporary relief from political corruption.
But more than that, Jesus was there to secure eternity for His people in the presence of God and He could not do this without going to the cross.
There have been many political doctrines but none have secured eternal life, while some have become death cults in their own right.
And so for all the excitement about food in the wilderness, Jesus knew that the eternal hunger of humanity would never be met without His personal self-giving on the cross.
He alone would be the bread for the people that lasts for ever and whose supplies never run out. In Him alone would the people of all nations and cultures find life in the presence of God, and in Him alone would there be any personal, cultural or social hope.
In Him institutions would live and without Him they would die. It was as simple as that.
Paul however, writing to the Ephesians, saw the life of the church as being bound up in the life of Jesus. The Holy Spirit was the personal presence of Jesus in the church and would be there until the end of the age.
His spiritual gifts were functions of the life of the Body of Christ and were given to the church as a whole, to be used by all its members. Some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists and others pastors and teachers. All would be there to build up the church as the Body of Christ, living and active and to be seen in the life the church visible in the world.
All would be centered on Jesus and without Him there would be no life: only bureaucracies and power structures.
That is why it is central to the life of the church that it be founded and centered on Jesus and none other.
For His is indeed the Bread of Life – and there is no alternative.