I've been quite busy the past week (since this past Thursday) as I've had the good fortune to be visited once again by none other than *drum rolls*... Mai Lan! Yes, that's right, my girlfriend has once again come to visit. She's managed to sign up for some courses at York (after encoutering a few snags along the way), and she took a Spanish placement test... breezing through it with no problem, blowing away the tester ;) So, instead of taking Spanish grammar courses, she'll move right in to Lit courses! She also thouroghly impressed my grandpa (and the rest of my family and some of my parents' friends from Church) with her singing and playing the piano. It's really great seeing her again... I'm glad she was able to come, so she got to meet my grandpa and see my sermon.
Yes, my grandpa came from Sarnia... He skunked me in cribbage :S Actually, quite a few people who normally don't go to church managed to come, I was quite flattered! Even Jayson came, which was great, especially since he only found out about it a few days beforehand.
I wish I had had it memorized, but so much has come up the past while that I had to glance down frequently to remind myself what was coming up next. Also, I've heard the sound system had a bit of an echo in it... all the same, everyone was very supportive and appreciative. Without further ado, here it is:
It may seem very strange to us that those who heard the word of Jesus would doubt his authority. Many people today have faith, without having been around nearly two thousand years ago. It is easy for us to imagine that were we alive then, we would have recognized Jesus for who and what he was… we would not be among those doubting, those grumbling about the strange words and deeds of someone whom they knew of as the son of a carpenter, as we hear told in the Gospel of John.
And yet, since that time, many people claim to be sent from God, some of whom justify terrible acts in God’s name.... So the question arises, how are we to know what the word of God really is?
Perhaps the easiest way is to look in the Bible… the incredible book that all Christians, regardless of denomination, share. But almost 2000 years ago, Jesus came, saying things that sounded new and unfamiliar.
The Jewish people share much of our Bible. In fact, people of the Muslim faith call both Jews and Christians, “People of the Book”, and are encouraged to respect our traditions. Jews and Christians have shared something that was very odd thousands of years ago… our teachings were found written in a book.
It makes sense to call Christians People of the Book… so much of our faith is based around the Bible. And yet, Jesus said something that sounded so radical to those who were already following their teachings from God. The problem was that many people knew these teachings without understanding them. The same is unfortunately true in our day, as some people claiming to be Christian use the bible to justify horrible and unchristian acts believe they are somehow doing what the bible tells them. The Bible is an incredible book... but even if you knew every word of every page, it is still not enough to make you Christian. It is not good enough to know the bible, you must live the bible. Instead of being people of the book, we must become people of the spirit.
The problem described in the Gospel of John is that the people thought God could only be found amongst the pages of their scriptures. God cannot be contained in a book… God created the universe, and can be found everywhere. It is so easy to be blind to God’s messages to us, as these people were blind to Jesus’ words, if you don’t look for God everywhere and in everything you do… far from being confined to the Bible, you must be able to see God in the wind in the trees, hear God in the laughter of a stranger, and know God in the words of a child.
I’m going to tell you a story I once heard in a Church service while visiting my grandfather in Sarnia. It was about a woman who was having a crisis of faith. She took a plane far from where she lived, and spent a great deal of time in the country, isolating herself from everyone, searching for a sign from God to let her know God was there, and was listening. She thought if only she could see a rainbow, she would have her sign. The first day she waited in the countryside eagerly for hours, believing that surely God would send a rainbow soon and show her that having faith was not in vain. But she didn’t see a rainbow that day. Neither did she see one next day, or the one after that. Each day, she became more and more withdrawn, more certain that no sign was coming. Finally, two weeks later she decided to go home. She boarded her plane, and sat in her seat, too sad to even glance at the smiling flight attendants. One of the flight attendants noticed that this woman seemed very depressed, and so cheerfully came up and asked if she could help. The woman stirred in her seat, and looked up to tell the flight attendant there was nothing that could be done… but as she looked up she saw the flight attendant was wearing a rainbow pin.
God cannot be confined to the places where we expect God to be, cannot be contained in a book or a building. God is everywhere, and speaks to all of us in so many different ways, if we’re willing to listen.
So what did Jesus mean by saying he was the bread of life? He says “Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die”. Jesus gave his life to us… not only on the cross, but in everything he said and did. His life was shared among the disciples and all he met. It is a way of acting for the sake of all, a way to help bring and share the goodness of God with all peoples of the Earth. So many people feed their bodies, and yet are impoverished of spirit. It is not so surprising in our day and age to hear of people with immense wealth, of people who need never go hungry… yet suffering from a directionlessness in life, where gambling, drugs, anything is used to try to satisfy something that is somehow missing.
It is by following Jesus’ teachings, and his way of living life that we may be spiritually fed. Just as Jesus reached out to so many, spreading the gift of God and feeding their spiritual hunger, by doing the same we become the bread for other people. A few weeks ago we heard the miracle of feeding five thousand with five loaves. An even greater miracle is found as we learn and share this spiritual food from Christ. It is said that “we are what we eat”. By accepting Jesus’ words and way of life, we share in true communion, not by merely eating and accepting the bread of Jesus, but by becoming that same bread for everyone else. In this way we spread God’s love, the spiritual food that gives us true life, to those around us, who share it with those around them. Feeding five thousand may sound like an incredible miracle, but God’s message is more than enough to feed the entire world.
So how do we share and become the bread of life for everyone else? Paul’s letter to the Ephesians helps shed some light. Paul says to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbours, for we are all members of one body”. “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry”. “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need”. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice”. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Paul outlines a way of living life in which we always support everyone around us. Instead of just telling us not to steal, we are told to actively seek out and help those in need. In a way, every action and dollar we waste, that we spend selfishly, is a theft from those in need.
So often we explain away the horrible things we, as people, do. We lie, we wage war, we are selfish, we mock, we anger, and we hate. It is so easy to hide behind the excuse that it is “human nature”. Perhaps this is true, and to be human means that war and destruction are inevitable, that our anger and jealousy will always be able to overcome us, and we all too often put our own concerns far above the problems of others. I think we can do better.
No matter what our actions are, God knows us, and loves us, God forgives even our worst mistakes. At the same time, we are invited to be more… we are the Children of God, but we also must become the Children of humanity. That “it is human nature” is not a good enough excuse. Paul tells us to “Be imitators of God”… as we forgive each other, rid ourselves of bitterness, rage and anger. All of this comes from the single, most important defining element of our faith, it is at the very heart of being Christian: love. Perhaps it seems impossible to be an imitator of God… but let’s take another look at what Paul says. “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”.
All the words in all the Bible come down to love. Knowing the Bible, without having love in your heart means nothing. There is not a single person on this planet that could come into existence except by the grace of God. Even the most hateful person, even someone who would do you harm, is still worth loving, and is still one of God’s children.
Through our love we sustain those around us. We help them through times of trouble, we support them and help them to grow and we feed them when they are hungry. It is from this unassailable love that God’s Kingdom is built, and that we are all invited to share.
So remember... to see God in everything around you, and to share your love with all the world. It is both how to feed your own soul, and the souls of those around you. It is the bread of life.
May all of you walk with God, now and forever.
Questions, comments, criticisms... they're all welcome. Some people told me it made them think... which is exactly what I was hoping for! So overall, it was a great experience - though it was very odd seeing my name on the sign in front of St. Paul's!
Finally, I have earned my G driving license. I parallel parked perfectly (nice alliteration, I know :P) which was the part I was most concerned about - but the examiner didn't see me looking to the sides enough! I thought I was doing a great job, perhaps I wasn't turning my head enough... but I'll try to look even more in the future, just in case. Also, I was making a left turn across a street, there was oncoming traffic, and I stopped... but the examiner thought I wasn't going to so briefly grabbed my wheel! At the end she asked if I was going to stop, and I said yes, so she told me she'd "Take my word for it"... It's funny, because for both my G1 and G2 exit tests, the examiners have been rather unimpressed with my driving, but gave me my license anyways. Regardless, I can now put that behind me and focus on the one main remaining thing I have to do for the summer... take my GRE test.
As usual I have much more I'd like to talk about, but too little time to do so... which is probably just as well since my entries are already too long. Have a great rest of the week to you all!