|Pen and Ink Reflections||
This morning, I’m going to share this Reflection as a conversation with Penny, on how we feed on God through experience today. For, as we reflect upon John chapter 6 once more, where, and what, is the Bread of Life for us in the midst of some of our greatest challenges? Through whose eyes are we looking at this?...
Almost a hundred years ago, a notable book of English Modernist theological essays was published. One leading conservative voiced a classic critique. The book, he said, was a typical example of liberals thinking less about God and far too much about a secular audience. Liberals, he alleged, are constantly asking ‘what will Jones swallow?’ – Jones being the name for the supposed average person in the street. The response from the editor of the book was swift. ‘I am not asking what Jones will swallow’, he retorted, ‘I am Jones themselves, asking what there is to eat.’ For there is a big difference, isn’t there? The idea of asking ‘what will Jones swallow?’ is undoubtedly a conservative prejudgment of liberal intentions. Yet it can be one unfortunate dynamic in faith circles, sadly leading down the path of reductionism and beyond. Asking ‘what is there to eat?’ is a much more radical and open question, possibly leading even to revisiting aspects of diets left aside in the past. For a self-confessed ‘progressive’ church like Pitt Street Uniting Church, it is certainly a question which needs to be at the heart of our healthy spiritual pathways. After all, as the missionary theologian D.T. Niles once memorably said, sharing the Good News is essentially about ‘one beggar telling other beggars where to find bread.’ So what does this food look like today? And what does our reading this morning from John’s Gospel have to say? For John chapter 6 is a lengthy excursus on the bread of life, and how it may be found, or not. What challenges, and opportunities, does this raise for us, as individuals, and as a community together, at this stage in our development?...
So Penny, which is it to be – traditions of gold, or possibilities untold? Which of the two parts of the theme of our 50th Carnival of Flowers Festival would you stress the most? I’m guessing the second part – possibilities untold? Whereas, I reckon you might guess that I’d go for the first part – traditions of gold? Or is the real answer something else altogether: something which transcends and completes them both – traditions of gold and possibilities untold? What do you say?
Let me begin with poem - A Man is Dying for a Piece of Bread (for Adonis Musati, Zimbabwean asylum seeker
a man is lying dead
on a busy street
in carefree cape town
the crumbs of excess
he is far from home
an ordinary young man
in want of an ordinary life
or just a piece of bread
and so he eats his own shadow
consumes the last twinkle in his eye
swallows handfuls of poisonous hope
his teeth crack biting the pavement
the world passes by
except those who know
the taste of a shadow
and stop to mourn him
Jesus declared himself the bread of life. He also proclaimed that we, his followers are his body, made part of him precisely by consuming the bread of the Eucharist. It is an almost scarily simple and visceral instruction - not think this, or even believe this, but simply eat this. Eat this and by doing so become my body in the world - become in our turn the living bread that brings life and peace to the world...
I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live for ever. And the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.
Today and tomorrow our morning prayer readings bring us the concluding sections of John's great meditation on Jesus as the Bread of Life, his 'technological upgrade' for the synoptic accounts of the Institution of the Lord's Supper. I am going to invite you in these two brief talks to enter into that core image of the Bread of Life, and reflect on two questions. The first, which we will think about today, is Are We Hungry? And the second, which I will address tomorrow is Are We Willing to be bread? I will begin and end each reflection with a poem, as I believe poetry can speak more powerfully than prose, and I have re-produced copies of those poems for your further delight...
What does a saint look like? One of the saints I have known was a wonderful Geordie lady called Ellen King. There were many ways in which she loved God and her neighbours. Almost every day this included her hard work in the baker’s shop she shared with her sisters. The shop and bakery was on the old Sunderland Road in Gateshead, close by the river Tyne, and it was always a busy place. For local people it was also a source of both physical and spiritual sustenance. Almost all who came to the shop were poor or struggling in various ways. Always they had a wonderful warm welcome from Ellen. Indeed children, and those particularly desperate, usually received an extra something tasty. Everyone enjoyed gorgeous homemade bread, full of joy and yumminess.
I still think of Ellen’s bakery as a model of what church is at its best: a place of faith and hope, offering sustenance for life’s journey, physical and spiritual, with love and eternal joy sharing suffering and surprising gifts with anyone and everyone who passes through. Not for nothing perhaps is the baker woman an image of God in Godself. Both Matthew (chapter 13 verse 33, and Luke 13, verses 20-21) share this resonant metaphor of God’s work in and through us. It is reflected in so much that is good in Christian living, not least in the baking of bread, literally and metaphorically, in our homes and churches, in the many gatherings, meals, and times of hospitality we share together, and, vitally, with others. As we reflect again, today, on the theme of Jesus Christ as the Bread of Life, let us therefore give thanks for the presence of the baker woman God among us, in one another and in the hospitality we share with others…
Jonathan's uncle David has been appointed Anglican Chaplain in Warsaw, and indeed to the whole
of Poland. We spent four days with him during our recent trip. Even before we went a number of
people said to us, 'oh Warsaw is all right, but it was so damaged in the war it's not the real thing. If
you want to see the real Poland go to Kraków or Gdansk.' Well we did not have time for that, so we
went to Warsaw.
Warsaw is certainly a city much touched by death and the ravages not just of war, but of the brutality of
both the Nazi and Soviet regimes of the last century. The Nazi years alone saw the ghettoisation
and then extermination of three million Polish Jews, many of them from Warsaw, and less than
10% of the Jewish population of Warsaw survived the war. Powerful memorials to the forcible
removal of Jews, gypsies and homosexuals by train in cattle trucks are to be found across the city.
For 63 days in 1944 the Poles struggled to free themselves from Nazi control. Known as the
Warsaw Uprising this was a major operation by the Polish resistance Home Army to liberate
Warsaw from Nazi Germany. I am sure many of you who are a little more advanced in years will
remember it. The Uprising was timed to coincide with the Soviet Union's Red Army approaching
the eastern suburbs of the city and the retreat of German forces. However, the Soviet advance
stopped short, enabling the Germans to regroup and demolish the city, reducing its many beautiful
ancient buildings to rubble, while defeating the Polish resistance. The Uprising was the largest
single military effort taken by any European resistance movement during World War II. It resulted in
estimated German army losses of 23,000, Polish army losses of 36,000, the slaughter of nearly
200,000 civilians and the expulsion of a further 700,000 from the city. During the urban battles
25% of the buildings were destroyed and subsequently German troops systematically levelled
another 35% of the city block by block. Together with earlier damage suffered in the 1939 invasion
of Poland and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, over 85% of the city was destroyed by January
1945, when the course of the events in the Eastern Front forced the Germans to abandon the city.
So where in all this horror is the bread of life?...