16 August 2015

‘Look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in
the oppressed …, in those who have lost hope’

‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh’ (John 6: 51) … bread in the window of Hindley’s Bakery in Tamworth Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

Zion Church, Rathgar, Dublin 6,

Sunday 16 August 2015,

The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

10.30 a.m., Matins.

I Kings 2: 10-12, 3: 3-14, Psalm 111; Ephesians 5: 15-20; John 6: 51-58.

May I speak to you + in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Our Gospel reading this morning develops one of the great “I AM” sayings in Saint John’s Gospel, the first of these seven sayings, which we heard last Sunday.

In last Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus said to the multitude: “I am the bread of life” (John 6: 35). And he emphasised it, not once but twice last Sunday, when he said: “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (verse 41) and again “I am the bread of life” (verse 48).

He develops that theme this morning when he says: “I am the living bread” (verse 51).

These are emphatic declarations. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus says “I am” 45 times. But he uses this particular way of saying I am 24 times. He says “I AM,” ἐγώ εἰμί (ego eimi), explicitly including the Greek pronoun “I” (ἐγώ ego) which is not necessary in Greek grammar at the time.

Why? What is Jesus saying?

I don’t mean to be obscure about the finer points of Greek and Greek grammar. But it is a point that was immediately obvious to the first readers of Saint John’s Gospel.

In the Hebrew Bible, the meaning of God’s name is closely related to the emphatic statement “I AM” (see Exodus 3: 14; 6: 2; Deuteronomy 32: 39; Isaiah 43: 25; 48: 12; 51: 12; etc.). In the Greek translation, the Septuagint, most of these passages are translated with as “I AM,” ἐγώ εἰμί.

The “I AM” of the Old Testament and the “I AM” of Saint John’s Gospel is the God who creates us, who communicates with us, who gives himself to us.

But it is worth asking ourselves this morning, what does it mean to acknowledge Christ as “the bread of life”?

I was at a wedding last weekend, which was celebrated within the context of the Eucharist or the Holy Communion.

In his sermon, the priest compared God’s self-giving to us in Christ’s body as an expression of God’s deepest love for us with the way in which a couple getting married give themselves bodily to each other … the most intimate loving action to be shown to each other

Of course, for the love of God and the love of one another are inseparable

I spent some time in Cappadocia, in south-central Turkey, earlier this year. I was there because of my interest in sites associated with the three Cappadocian Fathers.

These were three key Patristic writers and saints: Saint Basil the Great (329-379), Bishop of Caesarea, his brother Saint Gregory (335-395), Bishop of Nyssa, and Saint Gregory Nazianzus (329-390), who became Patriarch of Constantinople.

They challenged heresies such as Arianism and their thinking was instrumental in formulating the phrases that shaped the Nicene Creed.

But their thinking was not about doctrine alone. It was also about living the Christian life.

So, for example, Saint Basil is also remembered for his challenging social values. He wrote: “The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”

Sacramental practice must be related to the practice of Christianity, and doctrine and belief must be related to how we live our lives as Christians.

Frank Weston (1871-1924), who was the Bishop of Zanzibar from 1908, held together in a creative combination his incarnational and sacramental theology with his radical social concerns formed the keynote of his address to the Anglo-Catholic Congress in 1923. He believed that the sacramental focus gave a reality to Christ’s presence and power that nothing else could. “The one thing England needs to learn is that Christ is in and amid matter, God in flesh, God in sacrament.”

And so he concluded: “But I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have, if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in His Blessed Sacrament, then, when you come out from before your tabernacles, you must walk with Christ, mystically present in you through the streets of this country, and find the same Christ in the peoples of your cities and villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums … It is folly – it is madness – to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children.”

In recent days the Anglican priest and Guardian columnist Giles Fraser has visited the migrant camps in Calais and worshipped with them in the makeshift chapel served by Eritrean priests.

His visit stirred controversy in the red-top tabloids in England. There was speculation in the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and other papers that the BBC was going to film Songs of Praise in Calais, which caused panic about public money, the licence fees, being used to tell the migrants’ stories.

Giles Fraser has replied to his tabloid critics in recent days, saying: “The right-wing press keeps banging on about this being a Christian nation. But they hate it when it behaves like one.”

The public consternation in Britain has not been calmed by politicians deploying words like “swarm” and “marauding.” The language has been alarmist and increasingly racist, to the point that the Sun columnist Katie Hopkins descended to using the language of the Third Reich when she wrote about migrants as “cockroaches.”

Despite panic about the “swarms” of migrants supposedly trying to reach British shores from Calais, only four per cent of Europe’s asylum seekers are applying to stay in the UK.

In telling contrast, a report in the Guardian showed that unemployed Britons in Europe are drawing much more in benefits and allowances in the wealthier EU member states than their nationals are claiming in Britain, despite British government arguments about migrants flocking in to secure better welfare payments.

At least 30,000 British nationals are claiming unemployment benefit in countries around the EU, the Guardian reported last Monday. Four times as many Britons claim unemployment benefits in Germany as Germans do in Britain, and the number of unemployed Britons receiving benefits in Ireland exceeds their Irish counterparts in the UK by a rate of five to one.

This debate in Britain was in sharp contrast to the humanitarian work of the Irish naval vessels on the high seas, saving hundreds if not thousands of lives in the Mediterranean waters between Italy and North Africa.

The crews of those naval vessels are hallowed expressions of public values in this society … and a practical expression of Christian values in public action.

I have stayed in Saint Matthew’s Vicarage in Westminster where Frank Weston is said to have written that speech just a year before he died. He told people at the congress: “Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.”

So sacramental life is meaningless unless it is lived out in our care for those who are hungry, suffering and marginalised.

If there are three points that I would like to draw from this morning’s Gospel reading, they are:

1, God gives to us in Christ, and in the Sacrament, so too we must give lovingly.

2, Doctrine and belief must be related to discipleship, indeed they are meaningless unless they are reflected in how we live our lives.

3, Our sacramental practice must always be related to how we live our lives every day so that we make Christ’s love visible.

To summarise, our doctrines and creedal expressions, our attention to Scripture and our attention to sacramental life find their fullest meaning in how we reflect God’s love for each other and how we express God’s love for those who are left without loving care. For they too are made in God’s image and likeness, and in their faces we see the face of Christ.

And so, may all we think, say and do be + to the praise, honour and glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.


O God,
you declare your almighty power
most chiefly in showing mercy and pity:
Mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace,
that we, running the way of your commandments,
may receive your gracious promises,
and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This sermon was preached at Matins in Zion Parish Church, Rathgar, Dublin, on Sunday 16 August 2015.

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