Sermon for 9 August 2009
As we listen for the Word of God,
let us pray:
Jesus, living Bread,
nourish us with your word;
feed us, quench our thirst,
that we may live in love
and be filled with your praise
now and for ever.
John 6. 35, 41-51
Jesus says, ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven.’ (John 6.51)
Down from heaven. When we were beginning our service today, we sang,
…not in some heaven light years away,
but here in this space, the new light is shining,
now is the kingdom, now is the day.
Down from heaven means right here, right now. It means with us, in our midst.
At the beginning of John’s Gospel, we read these words (1.14):
the Word became flesh and lived among us…
The eternal Word of God, who is God, becomes a human being. In Jesus. This eternal Word makes a home with us. In our midst.
The human instinct is to draw away when God comes too close. We feel the ‘otherness’ of God too much. It reminds us of our guilt and shame. When God lived in the midst of us, he was rejected. He was horribly tortured and done away with on the cross.
So no surprise in today’s Gospel Reading that when Jesus declares he is the living Bread come down from heaven, come down to be with us, he is rejected by those who hear.
Part of learning to be a member of the Christian family is to learn to allow God to be close to us. We have to learn to open our hearts to God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus. The Spirit teaches us the truth about Jesus, and about ourselves. The Spirit shows us the deep, eternal love of Jesus for us, and the Spirit shows us where we need to grow—and change—and repent, so that we can allow God to be nearer to us, rather than push God away.
Jesus is the living bread, come down from heaven, come into our midst. In receiving Jesus, we become a community of people who welcome Jesus rather than reject him.
If we are a community that welcomes Jesus, then we also welcome the brothers and sisters Jesus has given us. St Paul had it right in Ephesians 4.32:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
And St Paul says it even more clearly in Romans 15.7:
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you. That’s the verse on the poster on our church door. It has Welcome in many languages, not just English.
Let me just recap a minute.
Jesus is the living bread of heaven, who is in our midst.
We are called to welcome him, to receive him, and give his Spirit a home in the centre of our hearts.
If we welcome him, we also welcome his sisters and brothers.
That last bit—welcoming the other members of the church family—is also the first part of the strategic plan we agreed to a few months ago. This is how we worded it; we want to ‘nurture within our congregation a sense of community’.
This is who we’ve said we want to be—we want to be a congregation that nurtures community. We want to be a congregation with a growing sense of community. We’ve said that we want to be a congregation that values one another, that welcomes one another as Christ has welcomed us.
So what we have is this: Jesus Christ, the living bread, is in our midst drawing us to himself. And drawing us to one another, nurturing among us this sense of community.
Now I’m going to describe a way of gathering as a congregation that will clearly show these two things:
- Jesus, the living Bread from heaven, is in our midst
- We are a community with Jesus at the centre
How would it be if the way we meet as a congregation actually demonstrated what we are talking about? How would it be if Jesus were in the midst, and we were gathered around him as a community?
We can do it. I believe that God is calling us to do it. Let me show you how.
This is a plan of our church. Our church has a fantastic shape. It’s a square. It’s a cross. It has eight sides; and the number eight often symbolises eternity. We can meet in a circle. We can use this space very well indeed…
The plan shows the table in the centre, about here. The pews are arranged around it. The lectern is also in a central position, where the table is now.
We can arrange the church this way, a way that proclaims who Jesus is—the centre of our life together.
A plan of the church was then shown, with sokme explanation…
A further thing…
When we brought the Table forward to its present position, it seems that some people were saddened by the loss of the ‘sanctuary’.
Where is the sanctuary?
The sanctuary is not some especially holy place that only certain people can enter. It’s not a more holy place where certain rules apply.
When Jesus died, the veil of the Temple was ripped apart. This declared that there is no special, holy place.
When Jesus said, ‘Tear down this Temple and in three days I will build it’, he was talking about himself. What did he mean?
Jesus meant this: the ‘sanctuary’ is wherever Jesus is.
Where is Jesus present? Jesus is present in his Body, the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ is all around me. I’m looking at it right now as I look at you. This is the sanctuary. It’s here! The thing is, you can’t see the Body of Christ like I can. Most of you only see the backs of the heads of other parts of the Body. If we worship in the round, we can see more of the Body face to face.
Where is Jesus present? Jesus is present in the sacrament of his broken Body and his outpoured Blood, so why not meet around the Table? Jesus shared meals with people of all kinds during his ministry; he invites us to share with him today.
Where is Jesus present? He is present as his Word is read and proclaimed, and so the lectern is also in a central place.
Worshipping in the round will help us to proclaim who we are—a community, gathered around Jesus Christ.
I believe God is calling us to do this. I’ve already spoken to the Navigation Team, the leaders of the AV team, and most of the musicians. All are very warm towards this way of gathering for worship.
I believe we can commence worshipping this way before the end of the year. Some of us will have questions; let’s have a question-and-answer time after worship in a few weeks, say on 30 August. Questions are important; they will help us think of things we haven’t yet considered.
Sisters and brothers, this is going to stretch me. It will take me out of my comfort zone, and make me learn new things about what it means to lead worship. I’m excited by that thought. I’m scared by that thought.
There’ll be different reactions in our congregations, morning and evening. Some of us will embrace this change enthusiastically; some of us will go along with it. Some of us will be dreading this change, or indeed any change.
If you’re feeling negative about this, please talk about it to me, or to a member of the Navigation Team…
But friends, whatever else you do: please, hear the reasons why we should do this: we want to show by the way we gather that we are a welcoming community with Jesus at the centre. Talk to me, or one of the Navigation Team. Take a deep breath, and pray. Give it the benefit of the doubt—consider that this may indeed be the way God is calling us to go!—and come along on the journey.