Thursday, 19 June 2014

On eating Jesus and Holy Communion

John 6.51-58

Jesus said, ‘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.’

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’

Food has become a new religion

It is what many people live for. It is what we do on Sundays. We go to a gastro pub; we invite people round for a BBQ. There has been a proliferation of food programmes and celebrity chefs.

And if things go wrong, often food is perceived to be the problem. Too much sugar, not enough bran, too little fruit or water.

And equally food is often put forward as the golden bullet. If we can get people to eat healthily, and particularly children, then many of our social and personal ills can be sorted out. This week we heard of another government initiative about school dinners.

But it makes sense. If it really is only about the here and now, if it is only about this world, then food is as good a new religion as any.

We read some verses from John 6. Earlier in John 6, the Jewish leaders have challenged Jesus. They say, ‘Do you remember the story of Moses. Our ancestors were in the wilderness. They needed food. Moses prayed and God provided this miraculous food from heaven called manna. Well, if you are who you claim to be, give us food. Give us food from heaven’.

Jesus answers them, ‘Your ancestors ate that food which came from heaven, and they died. Why? Because although it came from heaven (and actually all our food is a gift from God) it was physical food. But, I am going to give you true food, spiritual food - food that will give you eternal life.’

What Jesus is saying is that the physical food that we eat here is, in fact, not the real, ultimate, true food. It is shadow food. It will sustain our physical bodies, it will sustain our physical life, but it will not give us true life, eternal life.

He is saying that the real food, the true food - and this is where it gets weird - is him! ‘My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.’ He is the source of shadow food, the one who gives us shadow food (he has just fed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish) but he is more than that. He is the real food.

The verb 'to be' the verb 'to eat' are the same in Russian. 

We are what we eat.

If we eat dead stuff (however tasty or attractive it is) we will stay dead. Jesus says to them, 'Your forefathers ate manna and died’
But if we eat that which is living, that which is the source of life and love, then that which is living, that which is life and love will come into us. It will give us life and it will enable us to love.
And if we eat that which is eternal, we will know eternal life:
Jesus says, ‘But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’

John uses many pictures to show us what it means to become and live as a Christian. He tells us that we are to come to Jesus, enter through Jesus, receive Jesus, look to Jesus, follow Jesus, abide in Jesus. Earlier in this chapter he has said that the work of God is to believe in Jesus.

But here Jesus goes one step further. He tells us that we are to eat him. His listeners found that very hard to take. ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they ask. But actually what Jesus is speaking about is an incredible intimacy. We are to allow him to come into us and become part of us. 

I don't think that Jesus here in John is speaking of communion. My own opinion, for what it is worth, is that John at one level is pretty non-sacramental.

When Jesus says that his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink, he is not claiming that he will be changed into physical bread and wine. What he is claiming is that if you want to know what is true food, real food, if you want to know what will give us real life (and for John what is real is what is eternal) then you need to believe in him, receive him, eat of him. It is all the same thing. The bread and the wine, and all other physical food, is merely shadow food. Jesus is here claiming that when we receive him by faith we receive the real food.

But at another level John is completely sacramental. Everything here is a shadow of the reality which is Jesus.  When we sit down to eat any food, we are immediately reminded of the true food.

And I am not one of those who think that we can separate these verses from communion. 

Paul writes that when we come to communion, and eat the bread and drink the wine, we participate, we share in Christ. So when we come to communion we remember that Jesus lived, that he died, that his body was broken for us on the cross, and his blood poured out for us, but we do more than remember. By faith we come to him, we believe him, we eat him, and by faith we receive Jesus Christ, the living bread.  

It is the most precious gift.

Today we are invited to come to him and to eat him, so that he comes deep into us, so that he fills us, so that He makes us who we truly are.

It is no wonder that people like Ignatius were so grabbed by the mystery of it (and possibly let their heart run away with their head) that they called communion 'the medicine of immortality and the antidote which prevents us from dying, [and] a cleansing remedy driving away evil'.

The picture that I like to use is that as we eat the bread and drink the wine through our mouth, so by faith Christ comes in [from the head down], fills our whole being and gives us life.

We are what we eat.

If we eat this bread and drink this wine, putting our trust in Jesus, in who he is – the Son of Man and the Son of God - and in what he did, receiving Jesus, then we will be changed and we will become like Jesus. 

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Are evangelical Christians guilty of arrogance?

Why do followers of Jesus want other people to become followers of Jesus?

I remember a conversation with the mother of one of my college friends. She was asking why I was going to work as a parish assistant in Hackney. I said I wanted people to know about Jesus, because they needed Jesus. And she responded, ‘Malcolm, you are so arrogant’.

Isn’t it arrogant to think that what you believe is better than what the next person believes? They have their own faith and their own ways of doing things. And wouldn’t we believe what they believe if we had been brought up in that culture?

And when we try to convert people, doesn’t that end up with the Crusades or the inquisition – people trying to make other people believe what I believe, even if it means using a sword or a gun? Have not whole populations been baptised by force? That is no different to organisations like Boku Haram claiming that the girls they have kidnapped have converted to Islam (they said the necessary words).

And what about our own nation’s imperialist history?

We’re told that the missionaries went with the gospel and were backed up by the gunship. The soldier imposed British law and order on the pagan natives. The missionary instilled British values among the pagan natives.

That is a skewed reading of history. Yes some of the missionaries were like that. But many were not. Many did not go in strength but in weakness, not as rulers but as servants. They chose to live alongside the people to whom they went, to get to know them, to live like them, to share their dreams, to suffer with them, to serve them and to offer them the word of life.

But because there is this assumption that it is arrogant for people to tell other people of Jesus, our idea of mission has become centred on doing works of mercy for others. You see it in our giving. Christians will give sacrificially to the hospice, to disasters when they occur, to relief agencies – but we don’t really give to those missions that are committed to proclaiming the message of Jesus to all nations.

And St Francis of Assisi is repeatedly quoted when he said, ‘Preach the gospel using words if necessary’. It is as if the good actions are all that is necessary and the words are an unnecessary post-script.  Some lecturer said, ‘I could throttle Francis for saying those words’ – and a wag from the back of the hall said, ‘using hands if necessary’.

So why should we speak of our faith to others?

Why should we seek to make people followers of Jesus – here or overseas? 

Well today we look at Jesus’ command in Matthew 28: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations .. baptising them and teaching them to obey all I have taught you’. 

It is called the great commission

And I would argue that this passage gives us three reasons why we should go and make disciples.

The first reason is this.

1.    It is the risen Jesus who commands us to go.

Christian mission depends on a fact and a command

It was the risen Jesus who stood in front of his followers in Matthew 28. They had watched him die on a cross. And now he is standing in front of them, alive.

Paul writing to the early Christians says, ‘The gospel is this ... Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. He was buried. On the third day he was raised again in accordance with the scriptures and he appeared to ..’

At the heart of the Christian message is an astonishing truth. 2000 years ago a Palestinian religious teacher claimed to be the Son of God. He spoke with an authority the like of which had not been heard before. He did remarkable things.

But the structures and the systems cannot cope with any person who claims to speak as God. So they put him to death – and they thought it was finished.

But this man was different. He did what no other person has done. On the third day he rose from the dead – having gone into death, having gone through death, he came out the other side.

I read the story of the man who drove past a cemetery with his five year old beside him. The child noticed a large mound of dirt beside a newly excavated grave. He pointed and said: "Look, Dad, one got out!" The man writes, “I laughed, but now, every time I pass a graveyard, I'm reminded of the One who got out”.

That is the fact. Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead.

It is the basis of mission.

We are not in the business of saying to people here is a set of rules which we want you to obey. That would be arrogant. We want to say to them, Here is a person who we really want you to know. When you know him, your life will change. But we can’t tell you how. That will be between God and you and the people of God where you are.

This is very important.

Our task is not to proclaim our faith.  

That would be arrogant. I’m not here to talk about myself or my faith. If I talk about myself, then I will talk of one who is a sinner – whose motives and desires are very mixed up. I will speak of one who is weak, who occasionally wakes at 2am and wonders how he is going to cope. I will speak of one who loses his temper with his children, who speaks before he has listened, who is so often paralysed from doing what is right because he is scared of what other people will think of him. I will speak of someone who is self-centred, who has dark thoughts, who is paradoxically both proud and filled with a sense of inadequacy.

But I’m not here to talk about myself or my faith - how strong or weak it is – for one simple reason. I have not risen from the dead.
My task is – in obedience to the command of Jesus - to simply speak of Jesus, of his amazing love, of his death for me, for you on the cross, of the incredible forgiveness he offers, of the promise of the Holy Spirit and of his resurrection from the dead.

Paul writes, ‘We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake’.

2.    The authority of Jesus

Jesus says, ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me .. therefore go and make disciples of all nations’.

The reason that we are called to speak to others of Jesus, to urge them to repent, to follow him, is because he is the one who has all authority.

He has authority over all things: over sickness, over demons, over the forces of nature, over death.

He stands in front of Pilate who says to him, ‘Are you not going to answer me. Do you not realise that I have the authority to put you to death?’ Jesus answers, ‘You would have no authority over me if it were not given you from above’.

And it is the name of Jesus that alone can save us. Education can take us so far; religion can take us so far; scientific advance can take us so far. But nobody can break that barrier between God and people apart from Jesus.

Jesus is THE key to everything for everyone.

He is the eternal Son of God who was there at the very beginning and through him all things were made. He is the one who will be there at the end of history, of space and time as we know it, before whom all rulers and authorities, whether here on earth or there in the spiritual realm, will need to bow. Of course he is the key to everything.  

Jesus is the hope of our utopian dreams; Tim Keller says in an amazingly pregnant sentence: ‘All our fairy tales are about Jesus’. He is the key to the kingdom of heaven; he is the end of our pursuit for freedom, authenticity, beauty, harmony, truth and for that which can never be shaken; he is the overflowing source of life and love

Two illustrations.

1. Imagine an orchestra where everybody is playing the tune at their own speed, as they think it is best played, as it most suits them. It sounds dreadful.

But one or two look up, and notice that there is a conductor. Up to now she has been ignored. But they begin to follow her directions, and as they follow her they realise that she knows what she is doing. So they call over to their neighbours – they don’t say: follow me, follow my lead. There are enough people trying to do that in this orchestra. Instead they say look at the conductor, follow the conductor. And gradually as each person voluntarily submits to the direction of the conductor, the orchestra is liberated to become what it was meant to be, and the music comes alive

Jesus is the conductor of life.
When we begin to follow his lead, play his tune, we discover that he is the one who can set us free to live.

It is not a question of obeying a set of rules he has imposed on us.
He didn’t really give us rules to follow. He gave us a life to live.
He calls us to listen to him, to obey him, to put to death our old desires and motives and agendas, to walk with him, to trust his promises and to seek to be filled by him.

Jesus Christ is the one who has the authority of the conductor of life. He said, ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden. Take my yoke, my burden onto yourself, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’

2. There is the well known story of the captain of a ship who saw a light in the distance. He ordered the other ship to change course. ‘No’, came the reply, ‘you change course’. He sent another message, ‘I am the captain of a battleship. You change course’. The reply came back, ‘I am a lighthouse. You change course’.

Jesus Christ is the one who has the authority of the lighthouse. We can continue to ignore him, but if we do, we will end up shipwrecked.

If we are deaf to his word and refuse to forgive, we will end up knotted and shrivelled up. If we are deaf to his word and live for money, we will end up like our god: cold, hard and calculating. If we are deaf to his his word and judge and condemn others, we will discover in time that we have been judging and condemning ourselves. If we are deaf to his word and refuse to come to him to receive forgiveness and new life and intimacy with God, our boats will shatter against the rocks of despair and death.

And Jesus has authority over all people.

This is not one of those things that is true for some, and not true for others.

Paul writes, ‘At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord’.

One day, at the end of space and time and history as we know it, we will all answer to him.

In the Last Battle, CS Lewis writes of how every living creature must come and stand before Aslan. If they can look at him with love and gratitude, they go through the door into the stable and into paradise. If they look at him with fear and hatred, they go past the stable and Lewis writes, ‘What became of them nobody knows’.

Why should we pray that others become followers of Jesus?
Why should we give so that others become followers of Jesus?
Why should we go so that others become followers of Jesus?
Why should we speak so that others become followers of Jesus?
Why should we be prepared to be embarrassed or rejected so that others become followers of Jesus?

Because Jesus is Lord of all things and all people.

He has all authority.

3.    The presence of Jesus with us.

Jesus says here, ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’.

We do not worship a Jesus who rose from the dead, went into heaven and who reigns from up there, pouring down edicts through his high command, the church authorities or preachers.

We serve a Jesus who came down and lived among us, who knelt down and washed our feet, who lay down and allowed them to smash nails through his hands and feet. We serve a Jesus who was lifted up – but lifted up on a cross.

This is the mystery at the heart of our faith. It is beyond human understanding.
The one who has all authority is the one who loved us so much that he died for us. The one who has all authority submitted himself to human authority;
The one who reigns victorious is the slaughtered lamb of God.

And it is this Jesus who is with us.

So when we go through hell, and we will go through hell, we do not need to despair. We are not alone. There is hope.
When we are crushed or exhausted, we do not need to despair. We are not alone. There is hope

Jesus is with us.

This command to go and make disciples is as important now as it was then.

Yes, we must guard against the arrogance that presumes to preach itself, or the arrogance that stands over another and commands them to repent. 

If we are going to see people come to Jesus, then we need to be prepared to kneel down in front of the other, to listen to them, to receive what is good and right from them, to wash their feet, and to urge them, to plead with them to be reconciled to God.

Not because we are anything. We are not. We are nothing. But because 

Jesus has promised to be present with us
He has all authority
He has risen from the dead and he commands us to make disciples of all nations.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

God and technology

Technology and IT (a summary)

Click link for full document as an Adobe PDF File

The Theology of Technology
Based on Genesis 3:7,21

Technology is good - a gift of God to help us shape and control a fallen creation

  • enables relationship
  • enables communication
  • gives hope to some of the most vulnerable
  • offers an amazing source of information
  • democratises knowledge
  • breaks down public/private distinction
  • helps us not get lost!

Technology is harmful - a consequence of our alienation from God

The five false promises

  • of significance
  • of control
  • of freedom
  • of never being alone
  • of knowledge of all things

The real danger of technology is not that it is addictive, or that it can lead us into temptation, but that we can hide behind it so that we do not need to face up to our nakedness before God, our weakness, the inevitability of suffering, and of our need for or dependence on Him. 

Guarding against the wrong use of Technology

The right use of Technology

'‘Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete’2 John 12