Saturday, August 22, 2009

Just to prove I'm back at work

And really will return to some sort of decent blogging one day soon, here's the text of my homily for the 8.00 tomorrow...
I'm not excited by it, but it's late and starting the first Sunday back at work in a state of exhaustion feels like a bad idea, so I'm leaving it for tonight and will see what actually emerges in the morning.

Dumbing-down is a phenomenon that seems to be discussed by many people in many places these days.
We hear critical voices complain that everything from A levels to Radio 4, and even the liturgy of the Church of England is not what it once was…
That can be hard to deal with if you know young people who are waiting anxiously for exam results...or if you are trying to reach out to people who are struggling with all their might and main to understand quite what goes on when we gather for worship in these strange stone buildings that we call churches, places that seem to speak of earlier times, different lives….

You may have gathered, then, that I’m one who feels that we have, in the churches at least, a duty to make our teaching and our worship as accessible as possible.
If that leaves us open to the charge of “dumbing down” then so be it.
Fortunately, God’s grace is not limited to those of a particular intellectual bent…His love is as available to those who will never learn to read as it is to Doctors of Divinity…
Faith, indeed, is a great leveller…and I guess at one level we could describe the incarnation, Christ’s coming into all the confusion of our world, as the greatest dumbing-down of all time.

But in this morning’s gospel it sounds as if this wasn’t quite enough for some people
“This teaching is difficult…who can accept it?”
That’s a problem we still have – reluctance to accept the things that challenge us…

But why now? Perhaps all these references to bread have finally become too much for the group gathered around Jesus.
Or perhaps they are just rather tired of them
Not MORE bread…
It’s hard for us to imagine the impact of words about eating flesh and drinking blood on those whose world-view has been shaped by the Torah, with its outlawing of all blood sacrifices, and its strict dietary codes.
We hear them softened and filtered through our own experiences of coming to Communion week on week…
We say to ourselves
“Yes, yes…of course we need to share Christ’s body and blood…”
and our thoughts move on…For us, this is perhaps abstract theology and not practical reality.

But it IS a hard teaching.
Small wonder that the early Christians were often vilified on the mistaken grounds that they practised human sacrifice.
You can’t really blame would-be disciples those who found it All Too Much and went home.
After all, it sounded for a while as if they weren’t really wanted anyway
“No one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father”
so it would seem that those who don’t come CANT come
Hard teachings indeed.

But, when you come down to it, at the core of all these teachings is the simplest of processes – the human need to be nourished, to be fed.
We all know the saying
“You are what you eat” and here Jesus promises that if we eat his body and drink his blood, we shall share his life…if we eat THIS bread, we shall live forever.
What we eat normally becomes part of us…
When we eat THIS bread, we become part of it.
Feasting on God, we are transformed to live a whole new life ourselves.

On Thursday I was part of an audience of several thousand listening to the band U2…Though they are not a band that plays overtly Christian music, 3 out of 4 musicians is a professed and active Christian and often their songs reflect this.
At one point during the evening, we all found ourselves singing along to an early hit
“I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” –a song that reflects a process familiar to those who followed Jesus from the beginning, and to those who still seek him today.
That search for answers, search for hope, search for meaning is another core human activity…
I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…
As so often in the gospels, Peter’s words speak directly into our own experience.
Here is another searcher.
One who speaks with a kind of desperate weariness
One who has struggled to make sense of the teaching of his friend and rabbi.
One who wishes that things were simpler, that Jesus would offer an easy beginner’s model of discipleship that would attract rather than deter followers.
Peter has longed to go home, to settle down and get on with ordinary life without the troublesome demands of the man who seems intent on rewriting the Law

Now he has no control over events, but is caught up in them despite himself, propelled in just a short time from a life of comfortable anonymity on the shores of Galilee to a dubious status as the known associate of a wanted man. I’m sure that there were a few unvoiced regrets along the way for each of the Twelve. But they have found themselves drawn irresistibly by the person of Christ, and even if they don’t always understand him, they know that he is speaking the deepest truth they will ever hear.

So, no escape. Nowhere to go. You have the words of eternal life

Once you have really engaged with Jesus, nothing else ever compares.

Yes, for us as for Peter, the way may often be hard. There will be countless times when living as a disciple seems just too much effort. If only we didn’t have to bother about justice, freedom, mercy. If only we weren’t called to love so much. Couldn’t we just forget all about it and get back to normal?

But then we realise that we’re on a one-way street, with no u-turns possible. That we simply have to follow the road, for it is the only one that will bring us safely to our destination. In our own time, so many still haven’t found what they’re looking for. But, ultimately, it is the voice of Jesus who calls us - by whatever name we know him. It is Jesus who invites us to come to him. Jesus who speaks to us the words of eternal life

Jesus, the living Word…the one who shows us what God’s life looks like lived out in humanity, the One who shows us how we are to be…and who feeds us, week on week, so that we too may live forever.


JP said...

Looks pretty good to me, Kathryn!

Songbird said...

I always find something I needed to "hear" in your message.

Anonymous said...

I'd say it's rather good!


Graham said...

Slightly off topic... but I was there, 10 yards from the stage on Thursday: singing 'I still haven't found' at the top of my voice.

Welcome back!

Song in my Heart said...

I think a lot of the flesh-and-blood stuff is a way of getting people to recognise interconnectedness and the unity of all things. It reminds me of those ecological food chain diagrams you get at nature reserves and so on where you realise that the fish eat the plants which grow because of nutrients from dead fish (maybe that's a bit oversimplified) and the whole thing only keeps going because of the sun. Molecules that make up my body now may well have been part of someone else a few years ago. The cannibalistic implications of the Eucharist bother me a lot less when I remember that my grandfather's ashes were scattered in a lake and I'm almost certainly eating him by now in very very small quantities and I actually find this comforting on some level. How much more so to remember God's physical incarnation similarly and to recognise the presence of God everywhere by being very specific about it sometimes? But there's probably some heresy in there somewhere...

But, ultimately, it is the voice of Jesus who calls us - by whatever name we know him.

I am so very glad you put that sentence in.