Friday, 31 August 2012

Mark 7: Catch 22

A sermon by Peter Lockhart

It is generally understood that for everything that we say and do there is something that lies behind our actions. We may be acting out of fear or hate or love or concern or whatever other emotion is driving us. Despite what we think marketing experts constantly and subtly know this and manipulate us accordingly! Alongside this, the predisposition to act in a particular way has been long debate as being either due to our genetic make up or to how we have been brought up. Some of you might have heard expressed as the 'nature versus nurture' argument.

Now I do not want to buy into that particular debate today but I do want to affirm the notion that everything that we do has reasons lying behind it.

Let me share a story relating to childhood. Growing up the motivation that I had for doing house hold chores was generally not that the chore had to be done for the good of the household but that if I did not do the chore I would get in trouble with a capital 'T'. Now in some ways I might want to now thank my father for instilling a sense of discipline in me because there are a lot of times I still don’t necessarily feel like doing a particular chore but I do it because it has to be done. The motivation is not fear but maybe a sense of duty or obligation to my family.

We all have reasons for doing what we do. Maybe we do our chores because we are afraid of what people will think of us if they see our house untidy or our lawn not mowed. Maybe we do our chores because we feel everything has to be in its place. Maybe we do our chores because of the sense of fulfilment we get from finishing a job.

The same applies right across our lives. We have reasons for coming to church, for living our faith in a particular way and so on.

Now the scriptures today have something to say to us about our motivations for doing things in terms of our relationship with God.

In the gospel of Mark Jesus is confronted by the scribes and Pharisees concerning the failure of the disciples to follow purity laws when they are eating a meal. Now to understand this a little better we need to know that this is not about hygiene this is about religious purity. What is at stake is how the law and the Old Testament is interpreted and understood. If I were to make a contemporary comparison I believe it is not too unlike debates concerning how worship is conducted or about who is appropriate to exercise leadership in the church.

The rules of the Scribes and Pharisees were legalism to the nth degree – trying to make sure people stayed holy. Now Mark appears to ridicule the practices of the Jews when he goes onto mention other ritual washing of pots and cups and so on and so forth. In a sense Mark is challenging what could be a kind of Old Testament fundamentalist stance.

Jesus challenges the actions of the Scribes and Pharisees by quoting Isaiah, ‘This people honours me with their lips but their hearts are far from me in vain do they worship me teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

What does this mean? Jesus is basically saying that the Scribes and Pharisees have the wrong motivation. We’ve all heard the expression when someone is doing something that they don’t really want to do, ‘your heart isn’t in it.’ Well this is what Jesus is saying. Going through all the rituals is all pretty meaningless unless it comes from the heart.

If the reading finished here we might begin to think that the challenge for us is to put our heart in to it as it were that if only we can love God more then all the legalism isn’t necessary.

But Jesus has more to say about the issue. Jesus is actually going to critique the human heart more severely. Jesus argues that it is not what is outside the person going in that is evil but what comes from within. He tells the disciples that it is what comes from the human heart that defiles – the human heart is the source of our evil intentions.

Now Jesus goes on to list a nice little set of evil intentions: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person

What lies within us has the potential to undo us. So if we look at the whole passage we begin to get a bit of a sense that Jesus says following the rules is not enough, you have to put your heart into, but that the human heart is the place from which not good but evil intentions come. And, even if we think we have good intentions,
we have all heard the expression, ‘good intentions pave the road to hell.’

To me this sounds like the disciples are in a catch 22 situation – there is no way out. This is where we have to understand that this passage is part of the broader narrative of Jesus life, death and resurrection in Mark which is essentially the story of how in Jesus God’s love is extended to those who reject God. This is how the impasse of the human condition is resolved – obeying the law is not enough in and of itself and our human hearts are incapable of the fullness of response to God required but the good news is that Jesus was sent to save the lost sheep, which is all of us.

This is a reminder for us all of God’s great generosity. God gives to us so fully in Jesus that we are brought back into relationship with God through the depths of unconditional grace.

Now the book of James picks up on this theme of God’s generosity and encourages us to be doers of the word not simply hearers of the word. Now this is not a return to the legalism of the Scribes and Pharisees but I believe about living generously just as God has been generous to us.

James writes, ‘every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.’ This world that we live in, the wondrous landscape, the incredible diversity of life on earth, the joy of relationship, our gifts and abilities are all from God. And more than anything our faith and our relationship with God, our holiness, our righteousness are all from God through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit.

If we have understood this truth then our response to God is to live thankfully towards God. Our worship Sunday by Sunday is focussed on just this aspect of our relationship with God – thankfulness. In fact alongside the hearing and preaching of the word our thankfulness is expressed in that other pinnacle of our worship the sharing of the Eucharist – which means thanksgiving. At the heart of the celebration of the Eucharist is the great prayer of thanksgiving where we remember God’s actions through history and in our lives and we give thanks.

When we begin to explore what being a Christian is about thanksgiving, especially as expressed in our worship is certainly a key to Christian spirituality, but there is something more that James has to say about the issue.

James’ injunction to behave with respect and love culminate in the words “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for the orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

Now I have to admit for me there is a bit of a conflict between the idea of keeping oneself unstained by the world and what Jesus says about it is not what goes in to a person. Nonetheless, I suspect that James’ concern is that as Christian we keep our focus not on the things that oppose God but the generosity of God to us.

What is clear though is the assisting of orphans and widows. Now here I would read orphans and widows as being representative of those who are the most marginalised and those who are suffering within the society. Christian spirituality in this case is about giving thanks to God for what God has so generously done for us in Christ and about seeking to live generously serving those in the greatest need – those who are treated unjustly or who are marginalised.

Now we might find ourselves at odds at times as to how best do this but that we do it is our calling in Christ: to give generously just as we have been given. As a congregation we do this in all sorts of ways collectively and individually. Doing these things is not about making us good people, it is not about making us feel good, it is not necessarily because these people deserve to be helped nor are we going to save the world through our participation, but by engaging in these generous acts of giving we live our faith generously supporting just as God has been generous to us. These acts are one way of living our thanksgiving.

Moreover the money that you generously give week by week helps us as a congregation to continue this life of thanksgiving in witness and service not just locally either. Whilst it is true to say that the majority of what is given goes to paying the cost of having a minister, what is given also goes beyond the congregation through the Mission and Service Fund to serve the needs of people and the church across the state and nationally. The last journey had a very good summary of the kinds of things that our money goes towards. I encourage you to read it and to pray for the projects that are listed there.

I began by talking about our motivation for doing things. I suggested that Jesus describes a catch 22 situation for humanity and reminded you that God has generously given us a way out. Whilst I do not believe in some ways our actions or hearts are much more pure than Scribes and Pharisees ever were as Christians we live our faith not be striving to be perfect in our actions or our hearts but living thankfully and generously in response to the great love of God that we have been shown. Maybe our motivations and actions won’t always hit the mark, in fact much if not most of the time we will be off target, but through God’s grace we have been called to be this people and so we live inspired by the Spirit and led by Christ to give thanks together and to help the orphan and the widow and all those who are disempowered just we have been helped by a God who says I love you despite all your problems and failings.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

John 6: To whom can we go?

Peter Lockhart

“Lord to whom can we go?

You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe
and know that you are the holy one of God?”

Peter’s affirmation of faith declares that he understands that not only are Jesus words vital, they are the words of eternal life and that Jesus himself is the Holy one of God.

Whilst others turned their backs and made other choices Peter’s choice was to stay. He had seen enough, he had heard enough to know that this was where he belonged, with Jesus.

Could Peter and the disciples have made another choice? The answer is probably not. As John’s gospel unfolds we hear that the disciples have been chosen and drawn into their roles as followers by God.

Yet, it is plausible to say that they had many other options. Like the crowd maybe they could have rejected the claim that Jesus was the Messiah, Peter could have returned to his fishing nets or maybe even gone in a completely new direction.

But they stay. They stay believing that Jesus words are essential to their existence and that Jesus himself is unique in who is and what he offers.

These words of eternal life in Peter’s mind and in Jesus own description are not simply about what will happen to the disciples after they die but they are about how they are to live in the midst of their earthly existence, knowing God and the one whom God sent into the world, Jesus.

For Peter making the decision to stay with Jesus is making the decision to live and to live in response to God’s love.

As I contemplated this story during the week I was reminded of a conversation I had with an older minister when I was still a teacher and had begun considering becoming a minister.

His advice was basically this – if you are sure there is nothing else you want to do with your life, that there no other options then maybe you do have a call to ministry.

To me it sounded as if ministry was the last resort, as if following Jesus was the least among my options.

It may not have been intended that I heard it that way but for me on reflection it reduced both the ministry and the one who I believed was calling me into ministry, Jesus.

I don’t get that sense with Peter, following Jesus is not the last and least of his options – it is the only option because Jesus has the words of eternal life. Where else could he go?

Too often I think we reduce Jesus and the calling to be his followers from the prime place it should take. I have heard it said again and again that religion is a crutch. It is true that often it is in the midst of despair people turn to God.

And, numerous times I have heard older people reflect that if we had more suffering more people would come to church. I have even heard it said if we had another war more people would come to church.

Do we really think that we want the kind of suffering produced by a war so that we can have people in our pews? Do we really think that God needs such devastation to find believers?

God is not simply there as our last resort and we should not bank on people suffering to bring them to God and nor should we wish suffering upon anyone.

Jesus is the alpha and the omega; he is the beginning and the ending of all things. Peter realised this and was prepared to declare it – he longed for life.

The life that Peter was seeking was the eternal life of which Jesus was speaking. He was entering into the intimate space of relationship with God in and through Jesus.

The claim Jesus makes later in John 10 is that he has come to give people life and it abundantly and if we are his followers then as recipients of the promised abundant life and also the promise of eternal life then we should understand that what we have to share in our faith is not the last resort, it is not the poorer option, but that it is the centre of reality.

Unfortunately, in this age in which we live I think we have more than a little cultural cringe about being followers of Jesus and maybe we have lost sight of what the abundant life that Jesus was offering is really about. Maybe this is reflected in the idea that I should only ministry if I had crossed everything else off the list.

I often hear of the brokenness of people’s lives. With access to so much we are so often found to be unhappy, anxious, or depressed. Our culture which offers so much abundance and opportunity bit for many does not appear to be leading in to abundant lives.

Our communities have become less trusting. Our lives have become more enclosed and encased – isolated from one another we are lonely people in the midst of a crowd.

We are looking for more not realising how much we have. I heard Tim Costello, the head of World Vision on the Project lamenting the Australian mindset which continues to moan and complain about how tough we have it when we are living in a country with one of the highest standards of living and although there are some among our population who do struggle Tim Costello reminded me of just how tough it is in so many other places around the world.

On the other hand I come across many people who are entirely content in their existence. They earn good money, have nice things and are relatively happy. Often they see no necessity for being involved in the church, they live a good moral life and when they can spare the cash they can even be quite generous.

However, often the limits of their vision in generosity and the understanding of their own wealth can be disturbing.

What is life really all about? What is this abundant and eternal life that Jesus offers? Is it not life lived in relationship with God and each other, deep and caring, compassionate and loving?

This is what Jesus offers: life not defined by what we do or do not own, or what we have or have not achieved, but life defined by God’s love for us as we are. And life defined by God’s love for others as they are as well.

The words of eternal life that Jesus speaks are words which are difficult to hear, they challenge us with who is control and what is important. Yet they are also words that remind us to love God and to love one another because we have been loved. And, that in doing this we will find abundant life.

The world in which we live there is a plethora of options available to us – a consumerist culture, scientific world views, political agendas, philosophies, spiritualities and the list goes on. There are so many places to find answers to the questions that we are living but for those of us like Peter who have encountered Jesus despite all of the options we have found truth in Jesus, the Holy One of God who has the words of eternal life.

Let us live then as God’s children celebrating life by living it with God and with each other even though this teaching may be difficult.

To live deeply and suck out the marrow of life.

Peter Lockhart

As I was contemplating the meaning of 'eternal life' in John 6 I was struck by how we have become disconnected in the West from the source of life.  For so many of us we do not till the soil, our hands are not dirty with the labour of producing food for our existence.  As I was thinking about this disconnection I was reminded of Henry David Thoreau's Walden in which he describes his attempts to recover meaning in life:

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion."

— Henry David Thoreau

There are numerous movements around the Western world, for example here and here, seeking to reconnect people with their life and existence by engaging them in the production of their food.  Often these movements are driven by economic or environmental issues.

But maybe these movement are more deeply spiritual than many of us recognise as by living connecting again to the land we discover our dependency on this world created by God and our dignity in communities focused on life with one another.

Jesus words of "eternal life" are not only about some kind of life after death but are certainly also about relationship as he prays in John 17 and about abundant life now (John 10:10).  Maybe that is party of the reason why the bread of life metaphor is so important.

Given my current context in a relatively wealthy area of Brisbane I see little evidence of people making the connection with the land and life as elsewhere and even less impetus to do so.  I also am aware of low rates of committed engagement with faith and spirituality.

I wonder whether it is in such a context that the need for this reconnection is not simply as an environmental issue but as a spiritual one as well?     

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Bread: a symbol of life or wealth?

Peter Lockhart

“Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.”

I was thinking about this phrase from Jesus extended conversation, about his claim to be the bread of life, and I was struck but the challenging notion that realistically I don’t know what it means to be hungry. Not just a bit peckish between meals but the deep hunger borne out of depravation, the kind of hunger that a billion people suffer from every day in this world. The kind of hunger that many of Jesus listeners would have been familiar with in a world where there wasn’t a bakery on every corner.

How can I understand these words of Jesus about not being hungry when I don’t really understand what it means to be truly hungry?

This got me thinking about Jesus remedy for our true hunger as well, his claim “I am the bread of life”. Do I have any idea what bread is? Literally or figuratively speaking? As you can see I have brought some bread today. In fact I have brought quite a lot of bread and it is for you.

Today I have brought XX different varieties of bread products commonly and easily available in the bakeries around us and I would like to give each of you one of these breads.

Remembering the origin of Jesus conversation we are reminded that Jesus began his teaching about bread when the crowd, which had been miraculously fed with bread and fish, showed up looking for more. Jesus response was to challenge them with what was truly important in life – not simply the meeting of their physical needs but God; and more specifically, Jesus himself as the one sent by God into the world for the life of the world.

So, here we are 2000 years on holding our XX varieties of bread and wondering what Jesus was on about when he was speaking of hunger and bread.

I made clear last week with the children that bread can be a symbol of life, it represents food and is a basic staple for many cultures. Without food we die. But does it mean when we hold this many different varieties of bread in our hands? What does it mean that I was wealthy enough to make the decision that I could personally afford to buy you all some bread today? What does bread represent to us who, if you like me, has never really experienced hunger caused from food being inaccessible?

I was struck as I thought about it that this bread, its variety and its accessibility represents not life nor our need or hunger, but rather our wealth and our predilection to boredom in this consumerist culture in which we live. It is not simple enough for us to have bread but we need bread made and packaged in hundreds of different ways to keep us interested in buying bread so our bakery industry can continue in prosperity.

In a world where only a minority have access to bread in all its glorious varieties that we do, what do Jesus words about himself as the bread of life mean to us?

I found contemplating this question quite disturbing. If in the midst of our plenty bread has become, even inadvertently, a sign of our wealth not of life, what has Jesus as the bread of life become?

I think it could be said that Jesus has become, alongside other religions and teachings, another product to consume. We have made it so that there is not one Jesus but many Jesus to choose from - many denominations, many expressions of Christianity, many ways of worshipping God - each selling its own experience of Jesus. And, like it or not we are part of that game.

In a culture of plenty where we don’t know what it really means to go hungry and therefore have lost sight of what the true value of bread is I believe it becomes even harder for Jesus words to make any sense to us when he calls himself the bread of life.

As a congregation seeking to be renewed in our faith and witness so that others may know of God’s love what do we say to the people we meet and the community around us when we share with them that Jesus is the bread of life when they too have access to all the bread they think they could ever need. How do we help others understand ideas of hunger and of bread as we struggle with them ourselves?

I suspect that we could easily fall into the category of the Jews who grumble about Jesus words because they are upsetting and challenging. Jesus words always carry with them a sense of offense for his listeners because Jesus speaks difficult truths about our lives and the world we live in.

Jesus story this morning challenges us to step beyond the narrow confines of our lived experience, where not only do we not hunger but we have so much variety and choice that food is an entertainment for us, and discover that the world around us really is a place of discord and injustice and inequity that is crying in hunger and need.

Jesus words which do indicate that ultimately he is the source of life, life in all its abundance and life eternal, reorientates our priorities and ask us questions like “what are you doing holding so much bread when so many are going hungry?”

For me this creates real and personal issues as to how I am to live each and every day if I am to faithful to being a follower of Jesus. Like any parent I want to give my kids all of the opportunities available to them in this affluent society but the question is which and what opportunities will I choose and how will my decisions build them into faithful followers of Christ. And, which of the choices I make will encourage them to continue to be enamoured by all of the bright and shiny things that they can own, and sometimes that I want as well.

You see I have come to understand that all parents in this world would probably have similar desires for the health and well being and happiness of their children. The same sort of desires as the ones that I do! I have also come to understand that these things are not available to all people and may not even be physically possible for all people. I am acutely aware that the amount that my family consumes in terms of resources is simply not sustainable if everyone on the planet lived the same lifestyle as me.

This is more than sharing in Jesus acknowledgement that the poor will always be with us it is confession that my personal lifestyle is not and cannot be currently available to every person who lives in this world because the physical resources are simply not there. Should I feel guilty about this? Is it a sin?

During the week I was involved in a conversation on Facebook about this very issue. How much guilt should we carry around with us? What decisions and choices should we be making to alter our lifestyles? How are we being called to live as God’s people with one another as human beings not just with those whom we are directly related?

By Jesus claim to be the bread of life I think Jesus wanted to help people move beyond guilt and into the promise of God’s love for the world. God has given Jesus into our midst so that all things might be reconciled through him and so that in knowing him we might know God more closely and God’s promise for the renewal of all things and live thankful in response to this great gift.

There could, however, be a danger in hearing Jesus words about him being the bread of life and emphasising that the bread that he offers is more important than literal bread. It could be misinterpreted to mean that Jesus is not concerned about people’s physical welfare. Yet we know that Jesus comes offering life and healing and hope so that it may be “on earth as it is in heaven”. I don’t think Jesus is unconcerned about the needs of the poor for food.

Rather maybe Jesus is challenging us with another dimension of our lives. Maybe Jesus is simply us all that the true source of hope and life for the world is God and not anything that we do. Maybe today he is asking whether we need so many types of bread to satisfy us and challenging our ongoing problem of concupiscence – like the crowd do we simply want even more miraculous bread. Maybe he is asking us whether through a relationship with God in and through Jesus we might find that we don’t actually need all of the culinary options and all of the toys we have in our affluent society.

The good news presented to us by Jesus is that he is source and hope of life for all the world – a gift of God’s presence and love for us and we know this because as Jesus says the Father has dawn us to himself. As with the disciples who followed Jesus so long ago being drawn into God’s opens to us the wonders of God’s unconditional grace, we are set free.

This gift freedom though is also a gift to live as God calls us – to live a Christian life of thanksgiving for what God has done and as witnesses to God’s promise for the entire world. This involves being challenged by the difficult ethical questions which confront in each moment of our lives as to how we are going to live. These questions have been there since the beginning of the church and as we contemplate what God might be asking of us this day let us contemplate again Paul’s injunction to the Christians in Ephesus:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

(Photo: Jill Matsuyama Creative Commons, Flickr)

Friday, 3 August 2012

The true bread of heaven

Peter Lockhart

I wonder if I were to ask the question what the most pressing or concerning issue that you have is, What might your answer be? Personal health? Security and safety? Your happiness? The welfare of your family members? Whatever our chief concerns may be, aware of them or not, these concerns very much determine our actions and choices.

In the reading that we heard from John's gospel when the crowd comes to find Jesus what is revealed by Jesus challenge is that the crowd has followed him because they were having their needs met - it was as if through Jesus God was on tap to meet their needs.

Now it is not that I believe that the meeting of people's personal needs is not important but what was occurring in and through Jesus’ life was bigger than a full stomach.

I remember a theologian from the Theological School of South India preaching during my years in college. He spoke about types of Christians in India. One group he referred to as bowl of rice Christians. Give them a bowl of rice and they will become Christian.

The question he rightly asked of us in our context when people have everything that the need why would you bother becoming a Christian. It raises all sorts of questions as to how we engage in sharing the good news - we should not automatically buy into the marketing theory that we create a perceived need then offer something to fill that hole.

Having said this, the reading also challenges us by sheer weight of numbers. At least the crowd followed Jesus to find out more, and it was not a small crowd. Jesus presence generated great interest.

When we gather on a Sunday we believe that Christ is present with us and part of what we are doing is celebrating that presence.

The great Swedish theologian Karl Barth once said something along the lines that when Christ is preached he walks among his people. It is a reassuring reminder of Christ's presence with the community of faith as we gather. But if Jesus is present the question is - where are the crowds?

Maybe the message we bear is too hard and obscure when people's bellies are already full. Maybe the remnant that remain here have seen beyond the notion of a God who is simply on tap for our own needs and wants. And maybe we are being called to rediscover our place in sharing the story that Jesus is still here.

In the reading from Paul's letter to the Ephesians Paul encouraged the people to grow to their maturity in Christ. As we grapple with the questions of our place in the wider community around us I believe this is an important aspect of what we are being asked to - to think again about what is at the centre of our faith, to deepen that commitment, our understanding and our discipleship. To grow up into Christ who is our head.

Let’s do that today by thinking a little more about Jesus words to the crowd. When the crowd who had come expressing their hunger spoke to Jesus they asked Jesus what works they had to do to receive the bread of eternal life. Jesus response was not to ask them to earn their relationship with God but receive it as a gracious.

He reminded them of God's generosity to the people of the exile as they followed Moses through the desert and then spoke of himself in a very odd way. He began to speak of himself as a metaphor. "I am the bread of life".

We are so accustomed to hearing these words so sometimes that strangeness of Jesus words elude us. People just don't speak that way, even back then.

It would be like me saying, "I am the tree of life, the true tree which gives oxygen to your lives."

Jesus was using a metaphor to make a claim about himself; the life of the world generally and the life of us as individuals. Bread as the source of life for the people’s sustenance, Christ as the source of life for the whole world!

In the midst of the question about fully bellies, healing and other personal needs being met Jesus points the people to something more fundamental, the hope that can be found in God through him.

For me this is what the line on the Lord’s Prayer is so important "give us this day our daily bread". In the Egyptian Coptic Church this line of the prayer is translated something like, “give us this day the bread of eternity”.

In other words give us Jesus.

Of course the meaning of this prayer is layered as the prayer is seeking God's providence for us. Give us this day our daily bread should be understand literally as well. But it is more than asking God to give us the time to get to Brumby’s on the way home from church. The “us” of which it speaks I believe is all humanity. In this it becomes a prayer of intercession and for justice in a world where some have plenty whilst many go hungry.

God is concerned about our physical well being yet as a source of resilience and hope in life praying for our daily bread as Jesus takes us beyond filling our bellies into securing our lives in Christ’s life.

I believe growing up into Christ, deepening our connection to this reality is going to be vital for us in years which lie ahead.

Once we move beyond the immediacy of our current personal concerns and priorities it is poignant to think about the challenges we face collectively. It is quite possible we are standing on the precipice of massive global changes in civilization.

During the week I read an article by a former Hedge Fund manager Raoul Pal entitled “The End Game". His article Indicated that by 2013 we will be entering another global melt down. It will be a meltdown far worse than the GFC in 2007, a collapse which will set us back decades, and maybe even centuries.

Whilst we should always take the prophecies of the so called dooms-day-sayers with a level of scepticism for my mind there are too many stories being told of what is occurring to our planet and our around the world which are ringing alarm bells.

The instability of the economic systems in which we are embedded sits alongside issues of the scarcity of resources – especially food, current political unrest, changes in climate, rising sea levels, toxins in the oceans and the list can go on.

Whilst we live in our cocooned lives here in one of the per capita wealthier nations on earth it could be easy for us to miss what is already happening, yet cocooned or not I suspect in the decades to come we too will feel more personally the changes that already occurring.

As people bound to the life of Christ the question we face is how do we respond to the issues we face? Not simply our desire for bread, or whatever we think our chief concerns are, but to the bigger issues as well? What is the message that we proclaim and what will give us resilience in our faithfulness?

Jesus did feed the people, he healed them, he restored community but Jesus pointed beyond that to God’s grace and love which was revealed in him.

God offers bread for the world, so God offers life. In the midst of the personal and global issues we might face we can find hope in the life-giving promise of Jesus presence with us. We can celebrate and honour God’s gift by how each us lives and by sharing our hope with others.

The good news shared by Jesus with the crowd was not that there were works for them to do but that that God was offering life, bread for the world, and we can find hope in this as well.