19th Sunday In Ordinary Time – Dean Jamie Allen. “Never hunger?” John 6:35,4151
Our Gospel readings through August are focussed on Chapter 6 of John – and, as I mentioned last week, the passage we heard just read, is part of an extended theological korero between Jesus and the fascinated crowd who had just witnessed, or heard about, the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. That event was all about the sudden appearance of masses and masses of food – and word has got around the people that a miracle-maker was in the midst of them. Those who were there to witness it; and those who wished they had been... had gathered with more than a few followup questions. Jesus' teaching was that the feeding miracle had spiritual as well as physical implications and overtones. The whole chapter is a dance between the two. As an aside, Jesus offers a gorgeous word to church communities everywhere, for all time, when he says, “Do not complain amongst yourselves.” Something like a Tui ad. Yeah, right? Actually, I think the bar is set very high here at St
Mary's on that score. I don't think I have ever known a less complainy church fellowship. There's a positivity and hope here which just keeps on growing. It's worth commenting how valuable that is. There's nothing like a complainy environment to put people off ever coming again.
Here's what else puts people off ever coming again, and this passage gets to the very heart of it. Underselling the Christian story. I am personally gutted when people writeoff the Christian story because an inadequate job is being made of telling it. When it's dumbed down. Last Sunday, I had the privilege of baptising two new church members. They were bristling with theological questions and intrigue. They came to their baptism with fifty theological questions to ask. How cool is that! Especially when you discover that one was seven and one was five. More of this! More theological debate. At this cathedral we believe in exploring the questions, because we know that even a lifetime of exploring is only the beginning of getting to know Jesus. St John, at the end of his Gospel, put it brilliantly when he said, “Jesus did such a number of other things that, if every one was recorded, it is my opinion that even the world itself is not great enough for the books there would be.” Yes!! That's the reality. It is all far far deeper than we understand or tell. Every word that Jesus spoke, changes everything and keeps on doing that. And this is exactly what Jesus was expressing in today's reading, when he said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
What? Said the crowd. But we're hungry today, and only ate the rolls and the fish yesterday.... Ahhh, but we're talking about a deeper nourishment eh. There is enough – an abundance – in Jesus – to satisfy us for ever. I want to focus on that thought for a moment. But just to add in here, a mention of this week ahead – when we are all invited to take part in a week of Prayer and Spirituality – called The Feast – lots of opportunities to explore worship in new and familiar ways. See the programme at the back for more info.
Jesus is talking about satisfying hunger. Think about how hunger motivates us. I see it most obviously in the way that hunger enables me to train my dog (in theory. I actually just spend too much time cuddling him and not enough time strictly in training!).
Hunger motivates. For the good and the bad; sometimes for the very bad. As it has been said (possibly by Trotsky) “Any society is only three square meals away from revolution”
Hunger... Feed the wrong kind of hunger or overindulge hunger and we can end up trapped in a destructive cycle. Alcohol? Social networking. Purchasing the latest everything. Sexual hunger – what an incredibly dangerous force that is. The hunger of greed. Possession. Huge hungers. Think about jealousy; of land; the hunger to own. Think about what happened at Parihaka.
And then listen to what Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” There once was a fascinating conversation Jesus had with a woman filling a water container at a well. Just a couple of chapters before this, same Gospel. Again – cross purposes, she thinks he's talking about physical thirst. Turns out he is speaking much much more deeply than that. Here's how the conversation went.... Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Gently, he explained.... Go deeper. Go deeper. Can it be that Jesus was saying – there is enough in God; enough in Jesus – to take away that raging hunger? To quench that fire. Imagine what that would mean. It was the Rolling Stones who famously sung, “I can't get no satisfaction. 'Cause I try and I try and I try and I try. I can't get no...”
What if that was no longer the case? What if knowing Jesus could remove that emptiness and resolve that seeking. Wouldn't that be something the human race really needs to hear?
I think it would. I think it is. We see it embodied in the very best of monastic communities (including the brilliant new monastic movements – like Urban Vision in Wellington) – where people intentionally lay aside all the materialistic rubbish of this world, all that stuff that we love so much. Actually, their way is the only long term hope for this beautiful planet of ours. In the mid1970s, we crossed a critical threshold: Human consumption began outstripping what the planet could reproduce. Our demand for renewable ecological resources and the services they provide is now equivalent to that of more than 1.5 Earths, on track to require the resources of two planets well before midcentury.
The costs of our ecological overspending are becoming more evident by the day. Climate change is the most obvious and arguably pressing result. But there are others—shrinking forests, species loss, fisheries collapse, higher commodity prices and civil unrest, to name a few. The environmental and economic crises we are experiencing are symptoms of looming catastrophe. Humanity is simply using more than what the planet can provide. This year, earth overshoot day happens on Thursday. After Thursday 13th August, the entirety of the consumption humanity will do for the rest of 2015 is utterly beyond the Earth's capacity to replenish. We have to stop.
And Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
A story. A few weeks ago we visited an awesome animal park. I was really taken by one llama in particular.
Eschewing the tendency of the other animals there to be hanging out at the fences, ready to munch down a few pellets, this llama sat back in the midst of the enclosure, and had about him a look which expressed enlightenment. We codenamed him “Karma Llama” because by observation; he had achieved a new plane.
Is this what it looks like when we have found all that we need, in Jesus? Are we moving towards a state of ambivalence on a spiritual plane? Is that what Jesus was talking about?
Most certainly not. He is the same Jesus who said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for
righteousness.” I believe that in Jesus we will find our personal hunger satisfied – tiny bit by tiny bit as we learn to let go. But, if anything, proportionally will increase our longing to get stuck into change in our World.
To heal the hunger of others. To work tirelessly for justice. Those are the blessed and right kinds of hunger.
What happens if the hunger and thirst of our culture or our governance is the wrong kind of hunger? In the whirl of our present day; we are witness to the settlement negotiations for Taranaki iwi; the commemoration of the Battle of Chunuk Bair; a time when we are opening our hearts to the learnings that are tucked away in the heart of the community of Parihaka. These are incredibly deep and sometimes dark issues.
In the midst of our community now stands this. The Cross of Nails. Brought here from Coventry Cathedral. It's kaupapa I have told before and will tell again; centres of the Cross of Nails, like this cathedral, have a vocation to host the most difficult conversations of our community. Let's have those conversations. There are three strands to the CCN kaupapa :
1. Healing the Wounds of History
2. Learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity
3. Building a culture of peace
These were also Jesus' kaupapa. Building a culture of peace? Jesus said, “Love oneanother as I have loved you. Love your enemy as yourself.”
Learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity? Think of “In Christ there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female – all are one.” Think of the illustration of the Body made of many different parts – all equally of value.
Healing the wounds of history? That's what the crucifixion itself did, and will always do, for us, for them, for all generations still to come. I close, then, with this waiata from the Parihaka community :
Ma wai ra, e taurima te marae i waho nei?
Ma te tika ma te pono me te aroha e.
Who will take responsibility on the marae now?
There can be justice and truth only if there is love.