17 August 2009

Bread of Life

Proper 19 B - The Bread of Life

1 Kings 2:10-12, 3: 3-14

John 6: 35, 41-51

St. Luke’s, Burlington

16 August, 2009

by Stuart Pike


            It is good to back in the parish after a month-long vacation. A couple of weeks ago my family and I went to a Greater Parish of Gaspé service at the Pioneer Days Festival at Fort Haldimand Camp.  The service was outdoors and was officiated by the new Bishop of Quebec. At the Communion, we had real home-baked bread. We knew that going to this service would be the best way to see many of our previous parishioners and we certainly were not disappointed. We met many of them there including a dear, gentle widow named Edna who makes the best bread in the world. It was she who baked the bread for the communion. I’m sure that most of us have had the heavenly experience of smelling real home-made bread baking in the oven. It is an experience which bypasses the cerebral cortex and makes a direct connection with the soul. For many it is the smell of home.

            I remember the first time that I ever set foot in Edna’s kitchen many years ago. Like in many of the country homes in Gaspé, it was a large kitchen - it is the place where the life of the family was really lived, after all! It had a big old electric stove on the eastern wall and an even larger and much older wood stove on the western wall. It was in the wood stove that Edna baked her bread. There was no thermostat in that stove: after building the fire on one side of the stove she would know it was ready by just opening the door of the stove and placing her hand in the oven for a moment.

            Real, old-fashioned bread-making is about as basic as it gets. Simple ingredients, the miracle of yeast, mixing and kneading the dough, giving it time to rise, hands-on - punching down and kneading again: it’s a creative act which gives life. It’s elemental - like the first principle of fire which bakes Edna’s bread and makes the aroma in her kitchen unlike any other I have ever experienced. It is home and health and life and family: it is bread. And it is always shared.

            In Jesus’ time bread really was a staple: it was a whole meal. Bread sustained you. And it is the image which Jesus uses to describe himself and his purpose. He says, “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.’ And in last week’s Gospel he says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

            Of course, the hunger here is so much more that just physical hunger. Jesus knows that hunger is something which gnaws at every person at different times in their life. Sometimes we are more conscious of it than at others. But we feel a lack. There has got to be more.

Different life events sometimes cause us to feel our hunger more. The loss of a job, the failure of a relationship, the loss of a spouse. Transition times – like finishing High School or University can be hungering times. Also, for most people there comes a time in life, usually somewhere in the middle or later life, even when everything is going smoothly, that we are brought up short and are left with a deep hunger. There’s got to be more. Deep inside, we know that it is a hunger which doesn’t have a physical solution. The trouble is, we’re often not looking deep inside.

Solomon, having just been made King after the death of his father, David, feels inadequate to the task. He knows that his responsibility is immense and he feels that he is too young and inexperienced. Solomon feels a lack. He is missing something.

Solomon knows God’s presence in a dream. So often it is that God approaches people in dreams. And in this dream, God tells him to ask whatever he wants.

There are all kinds of things which he could have asked for: wealth or fame or power. Being young is a testing time - a hungry time – who knows what he might have longed for. What things did we long for when we were young? In what ways do you now feel a lack in your life? What are you missing? 

Somehow, Solomon was faithful enough to know that his purpose was to serve God and his people. In this way, Solomon, even at his young age was filled with faith in God. And he knew that God could provide what he lacked. 

Saint Augustine writes that we were created for God and that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. Blaise Pascal, commenting on St. Augustine’s writing, says that in each of us is a God-shaped hole, a yearning deep inside. We might try to fill up that hole inside with all kinds of things: physical things, experiences, all kinds of stuff, but that the only thing which can fill this God-shaped hole, is God. This reality is the basis for our hunger and for each of our spiritual journeys and it will drive us onward in our quest. 

Jesus, himself, provides us the divine experience that we are seeking. Knowing God-made-human in the person of Jesus fills the God-shaped hole. As Jesus says, his is bread for our hunger, and this bread will bring us to everlasting life, which I think means, not only life after we have left our mortal bodies, but also fullness of life in this world. Jesus is the answer to the hunger which gnaws at us, and the restlessness in our hearts.    

            We in the western world, with all of our wealth, are still hungering for more. We have even come to believe the heartless commercial message of our culture: that we are simply consumers and not really people at all - with souls and creativity, with a purpose whose lives are supposed to be filled with meaning.

            We have forgotten about the basics of life. We have forgotten to be thankful for what we have. We have forgotten Jesus’ message that only spiritual things will fill our deepest hunger and that the best things in life aren’t things - but relationships. We have forgotten that life is about bread and about sharing. How can we remember all these simple truths which we have forgotten? How can we follow Jesus’ example and be bread for this sorry and hungry world?

            And where are you now, in your spiritual journey? Are you feeling the hunger for more? More meaning? More depth? Come to the holy table and eat holy bread and enter into relationship with Jesus, the bread of life.

            “Edna”, I asked her, “Are you still making bread in that wood stove of yours?” And she smiled her gentle smile and said, “Oh yes.” And I think she might just have wondered why I would have asked her this question which had such an obvious answer. Amen.

16 August 2009

Who do we think we are?

Sermon for 9 August 2009
By Anne Crawford

Who Do We Think We Are?



In our Gospel reading today Jesus is back in Nazareth, the town where he grew up.  Not everyone is thrilled to see him.  Imagine if you will, a group of elderly men sitting around a table in the market square.  They’re having their morning coffee and smoking the hookah pipe.  Let’s drop in on the conversation.


Who does he think he is?


Yes, who indeed, stirring up the locals and getting quite a following too.

Dangerous if you ask me.

Yes, next thing you know there’ll be trouble for all of us.

We don’t need his type around here – going off to the desert to study and coming back with weird ideas. 

Dangerous if you ask me.

Joseph’s eldest isn’t he?

Yes, born in Bethlehem – strange stories around that at the time.  

Fancy coming back after all these years and telling everyone he’s the Bread of Life and the Son of God.

Don’t understand any of it but it sounds dangerous if you ask me.

We need to get him out of town or else it’s more trouble from the Romans.


Not much of a welcome home!  So what is really happening here?


Well, first of all, Jesus was a threat to the stability of the region as were many other itinerant preachers such as his cousin, John the Baptist.

These were volatile times with the Romans thinking nothing of putting hundreds of people to death by crucifixion.  It didn’t take much provocation to suffer that fate.

The subjugated Jewish population was scared. They knew that the least trouble they caused the better.  None of the local leaders wished to be associated with a trouble maker.


If we think of those occupied countries in Europe during the Second World War and the tensions, we might well be sympathetic with those who were critical of Jesus. 

His teachings were radical and were likely to cause trouble for the local population.

The leaders of the synagogue were well aware of the dangers from a political point of view.


Yet I sense that the deeper threat was that to the religious status quo.  Jesus was presenting new ways of living the Jewish faith.   New ways of interpreting the laws and thereby of managing the social fabric tied to them.

He was not asking for the law to be abandoned – far from it.  He upheld the law but he was pushing for reform both in thought and in action. 

He believed that women should be treated as beloved children of God rather than as chattels and that those at the bottom of the social ladder had as much right to be healed in body mind and spirit as anyone else.  Jesus wanted more emphasis put on social justice and teach people the practical ways of how to truly love their neighbours.


He healed on the Sabbath.  He broke the law.

He touched lepers physically to facilitate healing.  More law breaking.

These were radical actions intended to show that there was another way of interpreting the law that God had given to their ancestor Moses.


When he wasn’t healing, Jesus was teaching a new way of thinking about the Torah, and the prophets, and about whom God was and what God was doing in the world. 

This was revolutionary talk.  This was teaching that could lead to change and it was a change that not all were willing to embrace. 

Yes, there was resistance.


We don’t have to look far to see similar resistance to change in our world today.  Women in many countries still treated as chattel, child brides, honor killings, ignorance surrounding birth control and HIV/Aids.

And lest we become too smug, what about our own resistance to Ecumenicalism or to an inclusive church which treats all its members equally?  What about our resistance to the effort it takes each one of us to lower our daily carbon footprint.



Who does he think he is?


We take our imaginations back to Italy in the early 17th  century and observe a group of elderly men sitting around a table in the Vatican discussing the eminent physicist and astronomer, Galileo.

Galileo is possibly the person most responsible for the birth of modern science.  Yet the church in his day condemned his ideas as ‘false and contrary to Scripture.’  He was tried by the Inquisition and spent the last ten years of his life under house arrest. 


Who does he think he is?


Charles Darwin went to Cambridge to study theology in order to become a vicar in the Church of England. He became enraptured by the history of natural selection and is today considered the father of modern evolutionary theory.  He delayed publishing his work because of a possible conflict with the teachings of that Church.  He fears were realized when the Bishop of Oxford held a public debate denouncing his findings as contrary to the Biblical account of creation.


There have been many throughout history who have questioned the status quo of inequality, cruelty, slavery and human rights and who have acted to make the world a better place for humankind, living creatures and even for the planet itself.

These are the people who heard the new teachings of Jesus throughout the ages, and who responded by listening to the inner voice of the Spirit and by being courageous enough to follow the message they received.


Take a moment to think of some of them:


Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, Nelson Mandela, William Wilberforce, Charles Dickens, Martin Luther, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Saint Francis, Hildegard of Bingen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The list goes on.


The Nazarenes in our Gospel reading today had understood Jesus in an entirely literal way.  They professed to know who he was because they knew his parents.  But Jesus had spoken to them in metaphors.  He was telling them as he is telling us, that through him we can know God and we can receive that peace which the regular bread of this world cannot give.  When we are fed with the living bread of Jesus, we are able to rethink our old ways and begin to walk the way of him who guides us.

The way of Jesus is the way of truth and compassion.  It is the way of justice and shalom.  It is the way of kindness and it is the way of love.


Who do we think we are?


Do we welcome new ideas that allow us to rethink our thoughts and renew our commitments, or are we content to stick with the old routines?

Do we complain amongst one another about changes or do we encourage those who are willing to try a different way – a new way in which to open our hearts and minds to the love of God which surrounds us all each and every day. 



Let us pray:


Loving God

We know you in the breaking of the bread.

Open our hearts and minds to the endless possibilities

Of the New Way of seeing, believing, and doing

In Jesus’ Name we pray




August 9. 2009

Christian Unity

SERMON for 2 August 2009

Ephesians 4: 1-16

By Sharyn Hall

This past Wednesday, we received an e-mail in the church office from a young woman who was inquiring about getting married at St. Luke’s. She has no connection to this parish, but she wants to be married in our area to be closer to her family. Presently, she and her fiancé are taking marriage classes with a Baptist Pastor, and they would like him to perform the wedding in St. Luke’s. I responded to her e-mail with a polite explanation that St. Luke’s is an Anglican church, and we only have Anglican weddings here. Since they were Baptist, perhaps she should inquire at the local Baptist parish.

Her reply was startling and somewhat offensive, and yet it made me think. She said that they are not Baptists; they are Christians and she didn’t realize that the Anglican Church was exempt from I Corinthians 1: 10-17. In this scripture passage, St. Paul urges the Christian Corinthians to be unified in the same mind, and not to be divided into quarrelling factions according to allegiance to Paul or Appollos or Cephas instead of to Christ. I think her point was that all Christians should be the same, so the Anglican Church had no right to set itself apart from other Christians. To emphasize this point, she also quoted the gospel passage we read a few weeks ago, in which Jesus tells his disciples to kick the dust off their feet, if they are not made welcome.

As much as I found her comments condescending, she drew attention to an ingrained problem of the Christian Church. We are all Christians because we believe in Jesus Christ as our Saviour and our Way to a closer relationship with God, but we seem to disagree on everything else. We argue about scripture, doctrines, theology, morality, liturgy and leadership. The Christian Church in the 21st century is much the same as the Christian communities of the first century.

In our reading today from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he is trying to persuade the Christians in Ephesus to be unified in Christ. They may be diversified in their gifts and talents, but together they form the body of Christ. St. Paul returned to the theme of unity in Christ many times in letters to various Christian communities. It did not take long for the Christian groups in certain centres to form their own identities and fragment the Christian movement.

Over the centuries, history records the great schisms of Christianity, the separation of the Roman and Orthodox Churches, and the Reformation led by Martin Luther and John Calvin. The creation of the Church of England was another schism in the Christian Church, which was further fragmented by John Knox to form the Presbyterians, and later by John Wesley to form the Methodists. In the Anglican tradition, we have had internal groups which disagree: the Evangelical Anglicans who emphasize scripture and preaching, the Anglo-Catholic Anglicans who emphasize sacrament and ceremony, and many Anglicans whose theology and liturgy are on a continuum between the two poles of thought. In the past few years, our world-wide Anglican Communion has been preoccupied with disagreement over specific issues, but underlying tensions within Anglicanism have been present for generations. Will there be a schism in the global Anglican Communion? Time will tell; but if there is a division, it will not be the end of Anglicanism, nor will it be unusual in the Christian Church.

As Christians we cannot criticize other religions for disobeying God’s commandment to love your neighbours, when our own Christian history reveals numerous examples of Christians being cruel to Christians; and yet in recent years, Christians have reached out for greater understanding and appreciation of our diverse traditions. Christians have worked together to benefit the well-being of people, not only of differing denominations, but also of other faiths. As someone who believes in ecumenical dialogue, and works on behalf of this diocese with Lutherans and Roman Catholics to maintain such dialogue, I can be both encouraged and discouraged as we seem to take steps forward and steps backward in our struggles for Christian unity.

However, what I have learned is that Christian unity does not mean uniformity, and I cannot help but wonder if God intended that diversity should exist in religion as it does in every other aspect of human life. The problem has been our human tendency toward arrogance, prejudice and insecurity, all of which can lead to hatred, cruelty and violence. The prospects for Christian unity are good as long as we do not expect uniformity in a global world of diversity. The prospects for Christian unity also are good if we return again to the life and witness of God’s love in Jesus. Jesus recognized the diversity in the people around him. He respected that diversity, and then he tried to teach people to have respect and compassion for each other.

St. Paul is a prime example of the model Jesus set before us. St. Paul rejected God’s commandment to love your neighbour. He violently persecuted any Jew who accepted the teaching of Jesus, and who believed that Jesus was the Messiah sent by God. St Paul was arrogant, prejudiced and cruel, but Jesus dramatically challenged Paul to see that his way was not God’s way. From Paul’s writing, we get a glimpse of a stubborn, single-minded apostle, who has little patience with those who foster discord within the small Christian communities. St. Paul was struggling for uniformity of Christian beliefs and behaviour, and already the struggle was proving difficult.

There is no single answer to the centuries-old challenge of Christian unity, but St. Paul gives us clues in today’s letter to the Ephesians: we need humility, gentleness and patience; we need to bear with one another in love, and we need to make every effort to maintain the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace.  Amen.

Which Kingdom

Sermon for 26 July 2009

2 Samuel 11: 1-15

John 6: 1-21

By Sharyn Hall

The story of David and Bathsheba is a sordid story in the life of a great king. David is revered in the Hebrew scriptures as the greatest King of Israel, and yet one wonders why the scriptures include this story of his adultery with Bathsheba, and his treacherous killing of her husband, Uriah. Perhaps it was necessary to explain how Bathsheba became the wife of David, and the mother of Solomon.

Over the centuries, there have been many attempts to save David’s tarnished reputation. Sometimes Bathsheba has been portrayed as a seductress, who contrived her meeting with David. Other interpretations claim that David rescued Bathsheba from an abusive husband. In the 1985 film, entitled  ‘King David’, Uriah is portrayed as a brute.  Other versions transform this episode in David’s life into a love story. The movie, ‘David and Bathsheba’, starring Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward, portrays their love as redeeming their unlawful relationship.

In many ways, people have wanted to somehow excuse David’s behaviour, but it is more important to face the reality of David’s vulnerability to power. As king, David believed that he could have anything he desired by any means necessary. His desire to have Bathsheba seemed more for possession than for love. His greater sin was his belief that he had the right to exploit people for his own ends. The story of David and Bathsheba is less about morality, and more about the seduction of power.

The desire for power is a very human weakness. We see that desire in many forms in our present time. Sadly it is such stories, which make headlines and grab the attention of the media. Stories of sexual exploitation by people in positions of power are numerous. Economic scandals are caused by people, who believe they have the power to exploit the trust of others. Brutal dictators, who use violence and treachery to stay in power, exist in the world today.

The temptation of power is almost irresistible. Power can be dangerous in any situation where people are subject to the authority of someone else. We are all susceptible to the temptations of power, and those temptations can be subtle or obvious. The abuse of power, authority or influence can exist in any relationship. It is something we need to recognize in ourselves, and to guard against in our society.

One way to open our eyes is to see how Jesus handled the temptations to power placed before him.  In our gospel today, we read again the familiar story of Jesus creating the miracle of feeding five thousand people with five loaves of barley bread and two fish. Everyone in the crowd is amazed. Their reaction is to try to make him king. “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”

Jesus did not want power. He did not want to be another King David. His power was of a very different kind for a very different purpose. Often in the scriptures, we read that the Hebrew people who followed him, wanted Jesus to be king, a great warrior like David, a kingly Messiah, who would be God’s Champion to raise up the nation of Israel, but Jesus was not that kind of Messiah. To the Hebrew people, a king had unlimited power, a man beyond question, even if he was ruthless. A good king was a combination of warrior and shepherd. He would defend the people, and vanquish the enemy with courage and military skill. He also would care for the people as a shepherd, giving them security and prosperity.

David, in their eyes, was a good king, regardless of his human failings. Their image of a king was someone who had the power to raise them up out of their oppressive life. Jesus was like a shepherd because he cared for the flock of people who followed him. He gave them an abundance of food in a miraculous way. Jesus did not look like a warrior, but he had some kind of amazing power. The shepherd boy David did not look like a king, but he became a king of greatness. Perhaps the people believed that Jesus would become an even greater king.

Jesus was greater than David, but the people could not comprehend his greatness. If he was a king, his kingdom was not of land and seas, or nations and armies. His kingdom belonged to God. “Are you a king?” Pilate asked Jesus. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus replied. However, the image of Jesus as a king has stayed with generations of disciples and Christian followers. Some of our most popular hymns call Jesus a king: “All glory, laud and honour to thee, Redeemer King”, “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, every tongue confess him King of glory now”, The King of Love my Shepherd is”, “King of Love, O Christ, we crown you.” In this last hymn, Jesus is called the King of love, the King of life, the King of mercy, the King triumphant, the King victorious. Can Jesus be a victorious king and the king of love at the same time?

According to our gospel today, Jesus did not want to be a king. Jesus called himself a shepherd for the lost sheep of Israel, but he resisted any notion that he had the power of military might. The Hebrew people wanted a warrior, a shepherd and a royal king rolled into one Messiah. That image did not suit Jesus then, and it does not suit Jesus today. It may be that we too want a multi-purpose Jesus to defeat our enemies, to bring us prosperity, and to elevate us into a royal people. Like the Hebrew people, we too have several demands of what Jesus can do for us, but Jesus had only two commandments for us: to love God and to love others. It is easy to set aside his commandments in favour of our own desires, but it is his commandments, which will bring us peace and the promise of God’s kingdom.  Amen.